August 16, 2022 | Flash Brief

Iran Targets Salman Rushdie

August 16, 2022 | Flash Brief

Iran Targets Salman Rushdie

Latest Developments

An admirer of the regime in Iran attacked the author Salman Rushdie on August 12, stabbing him roughly 10 times minutes before his scheduled lecture in Chautauqua, New York. Rushdie faces a long “road to recovery,” stated his agent. He may even lose an eye. European and Middle Eastern intelligence officials said the assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar of Fairview, New Jersey, had contacts with members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). A U.S. law enforcement official said Matar’s posts on social media show his sympathies to Shia extremism and IRGC causes.

Iran denied any links to Matar but asserted that Rushdie and his supporters deserve sole blame for the attack. The West “condemning the actions of the attacker and in return glorifying the actions of the insulter to Islamic beliefs is a contradictory attitude,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani. Meanwhile, Iranian newspapers tied to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have praised the attempted murder. In 2012, a charitable foundation linked to Khamenei increased a bounty on Rushdie’s head, which remains in effect today, from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

FDD Expert Analysis

“The attack on Salman Rushdie suggests that Iran feels increasingly emboldened to target dissidents on U.S. soil, a step it has rarely taken in the past. If the Biden administration fails to impose severe consequences on Iran for the sake of reaching a transient nuclear agreement, it will only strengthen Tehran’s conviction that it can attack U.S. citizens with impunity.” – FDD’s Tzvi Kahn

Iran’s Supreme Leader Called for Rushdie’s Assassination in 1989

Matar apparently acted upon a fatwa, or religious edict, issued by Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, on February 14, 1989. The ruling calls on Muslims to assassinate Rushdie in retaliation for his novel, The Satanic Verses, which presents an unflattering portrayal of the prophet Muhammad. In the years that followed, protests, riots, and violence in opposition to Rushdie unfolded in multiple countries, including the United States, India, Germany, Thailand, Pakistan, Turkey, Australia, and France.

Iran Targets U.S. Officials and Citizens

Other influential figures in the United States face threats from the regime. The attack on Rushdie comes two days after the U.S. Department of Justice charged a member of the IRGC with plotting to assassinate former National Security Advisor John Bolton. The attack also follows the July 28 arrest of a man planning to kill Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad.

Over the past four years, the U.S. government has spent millions of dollars to protect erstwhile American officials from Iranian assassination attempts on U.S. soil, including Bolton, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, and former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Iran has also publicly sanctioned and threatened dozens of other Americans, including officials of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The FBI has even received intelligence that Tehran seeks to harm prominent Iranian-American author Roya Hakakian.

In the hours after the U.S. killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020, Washington secretly strengthened the security of thousands of federal buildings, fearing that Tehran would use its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah to attack the U.S. homeland in retaliation.

Iran Denies Responsibility

In most cases, the regime denies responsibility for its assassinations, whether attempted or achieved, thereby mitigating prospects for a punitive international response. Although often implausible, these denials provide a convenient fig leaf for countries unwilling or unable to challenge Iranian violence within their territory. Yet Tehran’s fatwa against Rushdie, its overt gloating over the attack, and Matar’s unconcealed affinity for the Islamic Republic make it difficult to exonerate the Islamist regime.

Iran Demands Sanctions Relief in Nuclear Negotiations

Iran’s many plots highlight the relevance of terrorism sanctions on the regime. The nuclear deal currently under negotiation in Vienna reportedly calls on the United States to lift terrorism sanctions on top financiers of the IRGC, including the Central Bank of Iran and the National Iranian Oil Company. If the Biden administration takes this step, it would likely encourage the regime to continue its plots against Americans on U.S. soil.

The Islamic Republic’s Objective: Silence Critics of the Regime

According to the State Department, the Islamic Republic of Iran has assassinated as many as 360 people in other countries. In most cases, Iran aims primarily to punish and deter what the regime regards as direct threats to its physical survival. Yet Tehran defines such threats expansively, viewing anyone who criticizes the regime or subscribes to a competing ideology, such as Sunni Islam, as a potential adversary. In the case of Rushdie, Tehran regards his supposed blasphemy, amplified by his public stature, as a menace to its mission of exporting its revolutionary creed in the Middle East and beyond. Iran thus seeks to make an example of Rushdie and intimidate prospective critics, particularly dissidents living overseas.



Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism