MANAMA, Bahrain -- Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini Tuesday ordered the killing of the author of 'Satanic Verses,' a novel that sparked riots in India and Pakistan by Moslems who consider the book blasphemous.
Khomeini said Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born author of the book, 'and all those involved in its publication who (were) aware of its content, are sentenced to death,' Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
'I request brave Moslems to quickly kill them wherever they find them so that no one ever again would dare to insult the sanctities of Moslems,' Khomeini said in a statement addressed to Moslems around the world.
'Anyone killed while trying to execute Rushdie would, God willing, be a martyr,' Khomeini said. 'In addition, anyone who has access to the author of the book but does not have the strength to execute him should introduce him to the people so that he receives punishment for his actions.'
Rushdie, in interviews in London Tuesday, denied the novel was blasphemous and accused his critics of conducting a campaign of 'smears and vilifications' without even having read the book.
'Satanic Verses,' a contender for Britain's highest literary award, the Booker Prize, portrays the founder of a fictional religion that Moslems consider an insulting parody of the prophet Mohammad, the founder of Islam.
Outrage over the book spurred hundreds of Moslems to attack the U.S. cultural center in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad Sunday. Police opened fire, killing five people and leaving at least 60 wounded.
The protests spread Monday to a second Pakistani city and into India, where one protester was killed and 120 others wounded.
Rushdie, interviewed Tuesday by CBS television's 'This Morning' program, was asked to describe his reaction to Khomeini's call for his death.
'Obviously, on a personal level, it's very worrying,' he said, 'but I think beyond that it shows this is the latest stage in a campaign that began with smears and vilifications and distortions of the book that has escalated to all sorts of levels of violence. And frankly, I wish I had written a more critical book.
'I mean, a religion that claims it is able to behave like this, religious leaders that say they are able to behave like this, and then say that this is a religion that must be above any kind of whisper of criticism, well, it seems to me Islamic fundamentalists could do with a little criticism right now,' he said.
Rushdie said he could understand some aspects of Moslem displeasure with the book but said, 'The sad thing is, of course, that the book isn't really about Islam.
'There is one section of the book, two dream sequences in the book, in which what I've tried to do is to write about the birth of a religion that obviously is like Islam but is a fictional departure from Islam. ... Now, my views don't have to be the same as the views of a fictional character -- and the fictional character is actually losing his mind. He's going insane. He's a paranoid schizophrenic.
'Now, when you've gone to that length to write fiction,' he said, 'it's very odd to have it judged as if you were writing some sort of thinly veiled attack. That was never my intention.
'Most of the people attacking the book haven't read it.'
In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Radio 4, Rushdie said: 'It is not true that this book is a blaspheme against Islam. I doubt very much that Khomeini or anyone else in Iran had read the book or more than selected extracts out of context. And obviously it is horrifying that people are willing to proceed in this way against after all what is just one novel in the face of the entire history of Islam.'
State-run Tehran Radio said the government declared Wednesday a day of mourning to protest the publication of the book in the United States.
The radio, monitored in Athens, Greece, said publication of the book in the United States, was 'another conspiracy of the Great Satan,' a phrase Khomeini coined after the 1979 Iranian revolution to describe the United States.
In Baghdad, the main Iranian opposition group Mujahideen e-Khalq said Khomeini's order was tantamount to exporting terrorism.
'Khomeini's decree is an explicit admission to and open support for terrorism throughout the world,' a spokesman for the Mujahideen told United Press International in a telephone interview from Baghdad.
'It's just another pretext Khomeini is using to break out of the fatal deadlock he faces on the domestic scene,' the spokesman said.