Pakistani Islamic groups said Saturday that they were outraged that their Muslim neighbor Iran has softened its stand toward British writer Salman Rushdie.

While stopping short of renouncing a death sentence against Rushdie, Iran said late last week it won't adopt any measures that threaten the writer's life or anyone connected to his book, "The Satanic Verses." Iran also said it would not encourage or help anyone kill the writer.Ten years ago, Iran's late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a "fatwa," or Islamic edict, against the Indian-born Rushdie, charging his book was blasphemous against Islam.

Rushie's novel has stirred emotions in Pakistan, where several years ago seven people died in violent protests against the book. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan call for the death penalty against anyone found guilty of insulting Islam.

On Saturday, hard-line Islamic groups in Pakistan criticized Iran for announcing Thursday it was distancing itself from the death sentence and a $2.5 million reward for Rushdie's death. Most of the groups were of the Sunni sect - Islam's biggest single sect, comprising 85 percent of all Muslims.

Some of the organizations used Iran's decision to question the legitimacy of the nation's Shiite Islam, the second largest sect. Iran is the only country with an overwhelming Shiite majority.

The Iranian Embassy in Pakistan in a statement Saturday said the verdict of Ayatollah Khomeini still holds good and an insult to Islamic sanctities and values was not acceptable to its government.