Antony Blinken has denounced Iranian state institutions for inciting violence against Salman Rushdie and then gloating about the author’s attempted murder as he remained in critical condition following an attempt on his life at a literary event.
The US secretary of state on Sunday directly linked the attack to Tehran’s rhetoric, in more pointed language than President Joe Biden used shortly after a man stabbed Rushdie.
“Specifically, Iranian state institutions have incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media recently gloated about the attempt on his life. This is despicable,” Blinken said.
Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses, first published in 1988, generated controversy for how it depicted the Islamic Prophet Mohammed. The book was banned in Iran and in 1989, the supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie. The writer went into hiding for years following the death threat.
He was attacked on Friday in Chautauqua county, New York at an event where he was scheduled to discuss the US “as asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression”. Hadi Matar, 24, from Fairview, New Jersey, was charged with attempted murder and assault following the attack.
Biden on Saturday has expressed his shock at the assault, saying Rushdie embodied “essential, universal ideals”.
Iran Daily, a state-run newspaper, praised the attack as an “implementation of divine decree” on Sunday, according to the Associated Press.
The AP reported that Jason Schmidt, the district attorney for Chautauqua county, on Saturday suggested larger forces were at play in the attack.
“We understand that the agenda that was carried out yesterday is something that was adopted and it’s sanctioned by larger groups and organisations well beyond the jurisdictional borders of Chautauqua county,” Schmidt said.
When asked if Matar had any links to the Iranian government, the White House National Security Council directed the Financial Times to “law enforcement for what remains an ongoing investigation”.
The FBI said it was assisting local law enforcement and working with partners in the UK, as Rushdie is a dual citizen of the US and UK.
Rushdie’s son Zafar said his father was in critical condition in a hospital on Sunday, but had been taken off a ventilator and was able to say a few words.
“Though his life-changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty and defiant sense of humour remains intact,” Zafar Rushdie said in a statement.
Rushdie’s agent Andrew Wylie said the author “will probably lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged”, but on Sunday said the writer’s condition was “headed in the right direction”.
Police in Scotland said they were investigating a report of an “online threat” made to the author JK Rowling after she expressed support for Rushdie on Twitter.
The Harry Potter author said she felt “very sick” after hearing the news and hoped Rushdie would “be OK”. She shared screenshots of a message received in response that stated: “Don’t worry you are next.”
After sharing the screenshots she said: “To all sending supportive messages: thank you police are involved (were already involved on other threats).” A spokesperson for Scotland’s police said a report of an online threat had been received and officers were “carrying out inquiries”.