U.S. Considers Sanctions on Iran-Linked Entities After Salman Rushdie Attack

The Biden administration is considering sanctions targeting entities linked to Iran for encouraging attacks on Salman Rushdie, people familiar with the matter say, after the acclaimed novelist was stabbed last month at a New York event.

The sanctions under consideration include restricting the access of these entities to the global financial system, according to these people. Some of them have offered rewards to kill Mr. Rushdie, which the U.S. believes motivates such attacks, these people said.

Mr. Rushdie, who spent years under police protection after Iranian leaders called for his execution over the 1988 book “The Satanic Verses,” was stabbed multiple times before a planned lecture in New York’s Chautauqua Institution on Aug. 12. Federal authorities are investigating what motivated the suspected attacker, Hadi Matar, a New Jersey man of Lebanese descent.

Mr. Matar’s lawyer in New York, Nathaniel Barone, entered a plea of not guilty last month.

U.S. officials say elements of the Iranian regime are liable because of their support for the fatwa, or Islamic edict, issued by the country’s then Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 demanding Mr. Rushdie’s death over “The Satanic Verses.” The novel, which fictionalized elements of the Prophet Muhammad’s life, caused uproar among some Muslims, who called it blasphemous.

No decision has been made on the sanctions yet.

Hadi Matar, who is suspected in the attack on Salman Rushdie, was arraigned last month in Chautauqua County, N.Y.PHOTO: JOSHUA BESSEX/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The 15th Khordad Foundation in Iran is a charitable organization operating under the supervision of the Office of the Supreme Leader. It put a bounty of about $2.5 million on Mr. Rushdie’s head in 1997, raising it to $2.8 million in late 1998 and then again to $3.3 million in 2012. The organization has been silent since the author was attacked this summer. It didn’t return a request for comment.

Iranian media organizations, including the semiofficial Fars news agency, have also publicly pledged to contribute to the bounty. In 2016, 40 Iranian state-run news outlets added $600,000 to the bounty for the killing of Mr. Rushdie, the organizer of a digital technology exhibition at which the money was announced said in a statement on its website. That amount included the equivalent of $30,000 from Fars, which published a list of the news outlets. Fars didn’t return a request for comment.

U.S. sanctions would complicate the international dealings of the organizations they target, from receiving donations to sending funds and investing abroad. While broader Iran sanctions limit the impact of targeting organizations inside Iran, potential blacklistings of former Iranian officials, especially those who reside outside the country, could help silence those advocates of the fatwa, according to some of the people.

The U.S. Treasury and State departments declined to comment on the proposed sanctions.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed after the life-threatening assault to use “every appropriate tool at our disposal” in response, calling out Iran as culpable. “Iranian state institutions have incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media recently gloated about the attempt on his life,” Mr. Blinken said at the time.

Iran’s government denied involvement in the attack, instead blaming Mr. Rushdie.

By writing “The Satanic Verses,” Mr. Rushdie has “exposed himself to the anger and rage of the people,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanaani, said after the attack.

U.S. relations with Iran remain on edge despite efforts by the Biden administration to revive the 2015 nuclear accord. That agreement lifted most international sanctions on Tehran in exchange for strict but temporary limits on its nuclear program. The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the deal in 2018. After almost 18 months of talks, Western officials say the prospects of an agreement soon to restore the deal are fading after Iran’s last-minute hardening of demands.

The U.S. believes rewards to kill author Salman Rushdie motivated the attack on him last month.PHOTO: BALINT PORNECZI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Washington has offered Tehran sanctions relief across its embattled economy, but the administration isn’t willing to ease all sanctions, especially those targeting Iran’s weapons programs and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite military unit designated by the U.S. as a terror group. Many human rights and terrorism-related sanctions will also stay in place under a revived deal.

The delicate state of the nuclear talks is one of the factors the administration is having to consider as it weighs how to address the Rushdie attack with Iran, according to the people familiar with the matter.

Iranian officials over the years have refused to take steps to have Mr. Khomenei’s fatwa against Mr. Rushdie rescinded, saying it could only have been overturned by the cleric, who died in 1989.

Successive Iranian governments have said the 15th Khordad Foundation isn’t a governmental entity but refused to censure it.

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