Booker-Prize winning author Salman Rushdie canceled plans to appear at an Indian literature festival Friday after protests from Muslim clerics and warnings that he could be targeted for assassination.
Rushdie's planned appearance at the Jaipur Literary Festival had reawakened the long dormant controversy over his 1988 book "The Satanic Versus," which some Muslims consider blasphemous. He spent years in hiding after Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini urged he be killed for writing the book, which also was banned in India.
In recent weeks, the head of the influential Darul Uloom seminary urged the government to bar Rushdie from the festival, and the chief minister of the state of Rajasthan, where Jaipur is located, said Rushdie should stay away because of security concerns.
Organizers of the five-day festival, which began Friday, postponed an event with Rushdie that had been planned for the first day, but still hoped he would attend.
On Friday, they read out a statement from the British-Indian author saying he had decided to cancel his trip after being informed by intelligence sources that "paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to Jaipur to 'eliminate' me."
"While I have some doubts about the accuracy of this intelligence, it would be irresponsible of me to come to the festival in such circumstances," he said.
The controversy over Rushdie's attendance clouded the opening of the festival, which will be attended tens of thousands of people who have come to this city to see Oprah Winfrey and literary stars, such as Michael Ondaatje, Tom Stoppard and Annie Proulx.
"It is tragic," said William Dalrymple, an author and an organizer of the festival.
Rushdie followed up with a message on his Twitter account: "Very sad not to be at jaipur. I was told bombay mafia don issued weapons to 2 hitmen to 'eliminate' me. Will do video link instead. Damn."
The Indian city of Mumbai used to be known as Bombay.
Organizers said they were trying to work out the details for holding an event with Rushdie via video conferencing.
The 64-year-old author attended the annual festival in 2007 without incident.