An Iranian religious leader has called for Salman Rushdie's death, 23 years after a fatwa was first issued against the "blasphemous" author by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini.

On Sunday Ayatollah Hassan Sanei offered a £320,000 reward for murdering Rushdie, blaming the British author for an amateur US film which insults the Prophet Muhammed.

He said the film, Innocence of Muslims, would not have been made if Rushdie had been killed after his novel The Satanic Verses was published in 1988.

salman rushdie

A fatwa was issued against the author a year after he published The Satanic Verses


The Innocence of Muslims, which depicts Muhammad as a homosexual, has sparked rioting across the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Violent protests last week saw the American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, killed in a rocket attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, along with three other American staff.

On Sunday Ayatollah Hassan Sanei said in a statement the film would not "be the last insulting act as long as Imam Khomeini's historic order on executing the blasphemous Salman Rushdie is not carried out."

Rushdie is about to publish a memoir about his years in hiding, which he described as "the blackest period" of his life. The fatwa against him has never been officially lifted but Iran's former President Mohammad Khatami said the threat was "finished" in 1998.

Rushdie, who called the Innocence of Muslims a "malevolent piece of garbage", has criticised the attacks against Western embassies, telling the Guardian: "What's not civilised is to hold America responsible for everything that happens in its borders… The Muslim world needs to get out of that mindset."

The Daily Telegraph reports Sanei's threat to Rushdie's life appears to be officially sanctioned in the wake of widespread anger about the film.

"If the imam's order was carried out, the further insults in the form of caricatures, articles and films would not have taken place," Sanei said.

"The impertinence of the grudge-filled enemies of Islam, which is occurring under the flag of the Great Satan, America and the racist Zionists, can only be blocked by the absolute administration of this Islamic order."

A Foreign Office spokesperson told the Daily Telegraph: "We are aware of the reports and take any threat to the life of a British National very seriously. Our diplomatic position has always been clear that threats to Mr Rushdie are completely unacceptable.”