Rushdie's five years in hiding: Today is anniversary of death sentence passed on author of 'The Satanic Verses'

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SALMAN RUSHDIE, the author of The Satanic Verses whose life is still under threat as a result of the fatwa issued against him, today passes his fifth year in hiding.

The anniversary of the death sentence passed on him by the late Ayatollah Khomeini over the book he described as blasphemous marks a collapse in relations between Europe and Iran and a transformation of the Indian-born novelist's life.

Many times since the ayatollah urged his followers world- wide to take action against Mr Rushdie, the author has expressed the wish to resume some kind of normal life. But with a pounds 2.5m contract on his head, that has never been possible. At a number of surprise appearances in Britain and around the world, he has been surrounded by police.

So serious is the threat against his life that Special Branch bodyguards still move him from safe house to safe house; in the first five months he changed location 50 times.

These days he might stay in one place for a fortnight, six weeks in another, though the longest time has been five months. Carmel Bedford, secretary of the International Rushdie Defence Committee, said: 'The Iranian threat remains at as high a level as it has ever been.'

Her fears and those of the police are borne out by events. Last October, the novel's Norwegian publisher was shot and seriously wounded. Gunmen killed the Japanese translator and attacked the Italian translator, and two people were expelled from Britain in 1992 after a plot to kill Mr Rushdie was uncovered. The author's 24-hour protection has so far cost an estimated pounds 5m; the millionaire author has contributed more than pounds 500,000.

In its continuing efforts to get the fatwa lifted, the defence committee is garnering international support. Frances D'Souza, its chairman, said: 'We are building a critical mass of international protest. The Islamic Republic of Iran must recognise the outrage about the fatwa against Salman Rushdie will not go away.'

New Islam for West, page 17