Pre-dawn firebombs hurled through windows Tuesday damaged two Berkeley book stores, one a literary and political landmark whose owner had vowed publicly to resist Islamic pressure to stop selling “The Satanic Verses,” as violence apparently broke out around the Salman Rushdie novel.
A loaded pipe bomb was later discovered inside the landmark Cody’s book store near the University of California campus and safely detonated by police, while in New York the offices of a weekly newspaper that defended Rushdie suffered serious damage from a third firebomb.
No one was injured in the attacks. In Berkeley, Cody’s and the Waldenbooks outlet on Telegraph Avenue suffered minor fire damage. Radio station KPFA-FM in Berkeley also received a threatening telephone call about a Tuesday program of readings from the Rushdie book.
The bombings Tuesday were the first violent incidents directed at Americans since Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called on Muslims to kill Rushdie and exact other retribution for alleged offenses against Islam in the novel by the Indian-born writer.
In Washington, President Bush told reporters at the conclusion of a Cabinet meeting Tuesday that his Administration would not tolerate further violent protests aimed at the Rushdie novel.
“We don’t yet know if the bombings are related to the book, ‘The Satanic Verses.’ But let me be clear--anyone undertaking acts of intimidation or violence aimed at the author, the publishers, or the distributors of “The Satanic Verses” will be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law.
“And while the details surrounding these incidents and the motives of those who carried them out are still unclear, I think it is important to take this occasion to state where the U.S. government and, I’m convinced the American people, stand on violence and on our rights.
“This country was founded on the principles of free speech and religious tolerance. And we fought throughout our history to protect these principles. And I want to make unequivocally clear that the United States will not tolerate any assault on these rights of American citizens.”
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, so police do not have any clear links to Muslim extremists. But both Berkeley stores had announced their intentions to resume sales of “The Satanic Verses” when new shipments arrived. The weekly Riverdale Press in Manhattan had published a pro-Rushdie editorial last week.
In Orange County, artist Steve Mellow, founder of the Readers Theater, said he planned a tribute Friday to Rushdie at the beginning of his monthly session on “transformation” at Scribner Book Store in Costa Mesa. Neither Scribner nor representatives of the shopping center where the book store is situated were available for comment Tuesday evening.
Mellow said Scribner representatives were aware of what he planned to do and have expressed safety concerns about the reading. “I don’t think they would stop the tribute. But I would go along with whatever they decide,” he said.
Mellow added that he did not choose Rushdie’s book because of the controversy it has generated. “I am always looking for any opportunity to bring focus on a living author to the public,” he said. “I’m not looking to catch on to a sensational idea.”
Meanwhile, Berkeley Police Lt. Michel de Latour confirmed late Tuesday that police had searched at least two apartments of Muslim students near campus an hour after the bombings. Zakia Henry, one of the students, told The Times that police came to her apartment at the Rochdale building about 5:30 a.m., searched the premises and said only that they were looking for suspects.
“We’re just treating it as a regular crime, but it’s probably not that,” Latour said. “So far, we don’t have anyone taking responsibility for this, so we have no motive. But you can certainly speculate what the motive might be.”
Andy Ross, owner of Cody’s, said Tuesday, “It looks like a pretty fair assumption to me” that the bombs were related to his high-profile stance against Muslim efforts to quash the Rushdie book.
A 3-foot-high poster was still hanging from the ceiling Tuesday proclaiming that “The Satanic Verses” would be sold openly when the new shipments arrive. “All booksellers, all writers, all publishers, all readers are victims of the intellectual terrorism that is being directed against Mr. Rushdie. . . . We feel that this policy is a small but important act if we are to triumph over terror,” the poster stated.
The fire was controlled shortly after being set about 4 a.m., and employees were still sweeping up about 8:15 a.m. when a janitor discovered the pipe bomb. The foot-long device was hidden under a book cart. The store was evacuated, and a Berkeley police unit detonated the bomb.
Ross said he planned to call his employees together to discuss security and consider if they should go ahead with plans to sell the Rushdie novel. He added: “I want to sell the book, but I have to think about my employees. You shouldn’t have to have your life on the line to sell books in this country.”
Cody’s has been a welcome haven for political activists, writers and intellectuals on Telegraph Avenue since the Free Speech Movement days in Berkeley in the ‘60s. “Believe it or not, all through the People’s Park protests when every other shop window was getting broken, nothing happened to Cody’s,” store manager Nick Setka said.
Bob Gammon, manager at the Waldenbooks store, said the damage was confined to a small circle of carpet. He said business went on as usual Tuesday and restated that the store would continue to sell “The Satanic Verses” when new supplies arrive.
Philip Barry, manager at Shambala Booksellers two doors away from Cody’s, said book stores are being put in an awkward position by the Rushdie controversy.
The incidents failed to deter Viking Penguin Inc., Rushdie’s besieged publisher from working Tuesday to get an additional printing into stores across the nation.
“The new printing should be in the stores any day now, and certainly by next week,” said a Viking spokesman in New York. " . . . We’ll see them spread out among the independent sellers, the chains and wholesalers. It all depends on the middlemen, how quickly they get them out. They’re in the pipeline, and the idea has been to spread them out around the country, not just dump most of them in New York and Los Angeles.
Security at Viking Penguin continued to be extremely tight. The publisher has received repeated bomb threats, the latest on Friday, forcing periodic evacuations of its building on 23rd Street in Manhattan.
New York Mayor Edward I. Koch offered a $10,000 reward for those responsible for the bombing of the Riverdale Press and gave the family of its publisher police protection. The newspaper’s building in Upper Manhattan was badly burned and two parked cars were destroyed.
Police and fire officials said that witnesses saw a man in a brown station wagon hurl an explosive device at the offices at about 4:30 a.m. As the assailant fled, his vehicle sideswiped a city ambulance. The ambulance driver tried to catch the station wagon but was unsuccessful.
By daylight, dozens of police and federal agents had converged on the scene. Assistant Fire Commissioner John Mulligan said there was no concrete evidence that the firebombing was connected to a pro-Rushdie editorial the newspaper had published last week.
“My guess is that it had something to do with something that was printed in the paper,” co-publisher Richard Stein said. “But I don’t know what.”
He said the paper, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist last year for the second time, would be able to print its edition this week despite the damage. The 39-year-old weekly serving an area near the Hudson River in Upper Manhattan, has a circulation of about 14,000 copies.
Police and the FBI were investigating the possibility that the bombing might be connected to an incident at a nearby private school last Friday when a stolen car was set on fire and driven through the cafeteria windows of the Horace Mann School. Headmaster Gordon Newcome said Tuesday that the school had not received any threats.
Times staff writers George Frank in Orange County and Robert Chow in San Francisco contributed to this story.