Bounty raised on Rushdie

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The Independent Online
HOPES THAT Salman Rushdie, the author, could return to normal life after 10 years in hiding came into question yesterday after an Iranian religious foundation increased the bounty on his head.

"The bodyguards stay for now. Salman's situation is being reviewed but I expect he will remain very cautious. We always knew this was going to be a vulnerable time," said Frances D'Souza, spokeswoman for Article 19, the human rights group.

An Iranian newspaper reported yesterday that the head of the 15th of Khordad Foundation had increased its $2.5m bounty on the British author's head by $300,000. Last Saturday, a hardline student group was also reported to have offered one billion rials ($333,000) to anyone who carried out the fatwa (religious order) to kill Mr Rushdie.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late Iranian revolutionary leader, issued the fatwa against the author for alleged blasphemy in his book The Satanic Verses.

"We had deliberately been keeping quiet about (the bounty issue), thinking things needed to settle down. But we are getting increasingly worried. The Foundation's decision is much more worrying (than the students')." said Ms D'Souza.

Mr Rushdie, having spent the last 10 years under British police protection, had hailed Iran's decision last month to end official calls for his death as the beginning of his return to normality. The author will meet Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, in the next two days to discuss recent developments, she said.

The Foreign Office deplored any attempt to put a price on a British citizen's head and said that no bounty offer had the backing of the Iranian authorities.

Never the less, Ms D'Souza suggested the Foundation must have had the implicit blessing of Tehran as no religious organisation could operate without state permission.