The man accused of stabbing author Salman Rushdie had contact with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, intelligence officials are reported to have said.
Hadi Matar, of Fairview, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault in court on Sunday.
An Iranian official on 15 August, 2022, denied Tehran was involved in the stabbing of author Salman Rushdie, though he sought to justify the attack in the Islamic Republic’s first public comments on the bloodshed.
“Regarding the attack against Salman Rushdie in America, we don’t consider anyone deserving reproach, blame or even condemnation, except for (Rushdie) himself and his supporters,” said Nasser Kanaani, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry.
“In this regard, no one can blame the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he added. “We believe that the insults made and the support he received was an insult against followers of all religions.”
According to VICE, a Middle Eastern intelligence official said it was “clear” prior to the stabbing that Matar had been in contact with “people either directly involved with or adjacent to the Quds Force,” the IRGC’s external militia.
“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,” the official added.
The US has also classified the Quds Force as a foreign terrorist entity.
A NATO official told VICE, that the attack “had all the hallmarks of a ‘guided’ attack”, where an intelligence service talks a supporter into action, without direct support or involvement in the attack itself.
Investigators have so far not revealed that there was a direct link between the Iranian government and Mr Rushdie’s attacker.
Another Middle Eastern intelligence official told Vice that it was unlikely the attacker decided to act on his own accord.
“A 24-year-old born in the United States does not come up with Salman Rushdie as a target on his own,” he said.
“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.”
In 1989, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, demanding the author’s death, and while Iran has not focused on Rushdie in recent years, the decree still stands.
Also, a semiofficial Iranian foundation had posted a bounty of over $3 million for the killing of the author. It has not commented on the attack.
Rushdie was attacked Friday as he was about to give a lecture in western New York. He suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, according to his agent, Andrew Wylie. Rushdie is likely to lose the eye, Wylie said.
Matar, 24, was born in the US to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon near the Israeli border, according to the village’s mayor.
Matar had lived in recent years in New Jersey with his mother, who told London’s Daily Mail that her son became moody and more religious after a month-long trip to Lebanon in 2018.
“I was expecting him to come back motivated, to complete school, to get his degree and a job. But instead he locked himself in the basement. He had changed a lot, he didn’t say anything to me or his sisters for months,” Silvana Fardos said.
Village records in Yaroun show Matar holds Lebanese citizenship and is a Shiite, an official there said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of security concerns, said Matar’s father lives there but has been in seclusion since the attack.