Here’s What We Know About Iran’s Ties To Rushdie’s Attempted Assassin

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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  • Iran’s leaders have denied direct involvement in the Aug. 12 assassination attempt on author Salman Rushdie, whose allegedly blasphemous 1988 novel prompted former Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to call for his death.
  • The attacker, Hadi Matar, traveled to a pro-Iran region of Lebanon in 2018, where he may have had contact with Iranian paramilitary forces and became more religious.
  • “Iran has spent time and political capital to keep this issue alive over the years,” Behnam ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Iran bears some responsibility for the Aug. 12 stabbing of author Salman Rushdie, whose controversial novel in 1988 earned him death threats from the Iranian regime, by a Lebanese-American individual, an expert in Iranian security and politics told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

While there is no public evidence that 24-year-old Hadi Matar carried out direct orders from Iran in attempting to assassinate Rushdie, the attack bears fingerprints of involvement from a foreign intelligence service, a NATO counterterrorism official told Vice. Iran may have “guided” Matar into the decision to take action without explicitly mandating or supporting the operation.

“Iran has spent time and political capital to keep this issue alive over the years,” Behnam ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the DCNF.

Former Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling for Rushdie’s assassination in 1989 after he published his inflammatory novel, “The Satanic Verses,” that Iranian leaders deemed blasphemous. Soon after, the regime-supported 15th Khordad Foundation posted a bounty for Rushdie’s killing, bumping it up to $3.3 million in 2012.

Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who came to power in 1989, confirmed in 2017 that the decree’s continuing validity in 2017, and again in 2019. “Imam Khomeini’s verdict regarding Salman Rushdie is based on divine verses and just like divine verses, it is solid and irrevocable,” he said, the Associated Press reported.

“There is no doubt in my mind” that the fatwa, media support for Rushdie’s killing and rewards from organizations with close affiliation to the regime played a role in Matar’s assassination attempt, said Taleblu. “As a reminder, Tehran often works through carve outs and cut outs to mask its hand,” he added. (RELATED: J.K. Rowling Receives Death Threats After Speaking Out About Attack On Salman Rushdie)

The Iranian regime has denied having a hand in the attack despite claiming it was deserved, the Associated Press reported,

Matar’s mother, Silvana Fardos, told the Daily Mail that in 2018 Matar took an ill-fated trip to visit his father in Lebanon, returning moody, reclusive and seemingly more interested in Islam than before.

“One time he argued with me asking why I encouraged him to get an education instead of focusing on religion. He was angry that I did not introduce him to Islam from a young age,” Fardos said.

Matar reportedly had posts venerating Iranian political leaders on his now-deleted social media accounts, CBS reported. He also carried a forged drivers’ license bearing the name Hassan Mughniyah, a possible reference to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and one of its commanders, Imad Mughniyeh.

Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization that controls the area Matar’s family hailed from, denied any association with Matar or his activities, Reuters reported.

The U.S. had inquired about Matar’s travel to Lebanon to determine if Hezbollah had provided the attacker with any military training, a senior Lebanese official told Vice.

I don’t think it’s realistic to expect someone to admit to training him to carry out an assassination, the involved groups have a long history of keeping secrets,” the official said, adding that an order would not necessarily have to come straight from the highest levels of Iranian leadership for the Quds Force to instigate, explicitly or not, an assassination attempt.

A Middle Eastern intelligence official identified “clear” signs of involvement by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, according to Vice. “It’s unclear the extent of the involvement, if this was a directly supported assassination attempt or if it was a series of suggestions and directions in picking a target,” he said.

“A 24-year-old born in the United States did not come up with Salman Rushdie as a target on his own,” the official added. “Even an avid consumer of Iranian propaganda would have some difficulty finding references to Rushdie compared to all the other, modern enemies, designated by the regime.”

Matar pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted murder in court Saturday and has not stated a motive, The New York Times reported.

The FBI said it was working with local and international partners on Rushdie’s case, but declined to comment further when asked about investigations into Matar’s connections to the Iranian regime.

The Iranian Mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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