Suspect in Salman Rushdie attack sympathized with Iranian regime, NYPD intelligence bulletin says

·Investigative Correspondent
·7-min read

The man arrested for allegedly attempting to kill author Salman Rushdie at an event in upstate New York is believed to have sympathized with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of Iran’s military and a designated terrorist organization, according to a New York Police Department intelligence assessment obtained by Yahoo News.

Rushdie, the 75-year-old author of “The Satanic Verses,” was stabbed on Aug. 12 as he was about to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution as part of a lecture series on writers exiled under threat of persecution. Authorities say the suspect, Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, N.J., attacked Rushdie on stage, leaving him seriously injured.

Matar was arraigned Saturday on charges of attempted murder and assault. Matar is described in the NYPD bulletin as an individual "with strong indicators of ideological support for the Iranian regime.”

Rushdie, a native of India, has been the target of death threats and assassination attempts since the 1988 publication of “The Satanic Verses,” a book that some Muslims consider offensive because of its depiction of Islam and is banned in Iran.

Author Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie at a literary event in Boston in 2016. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The NYPD intelligence bulletin provides details on the attack on Rushdie and on Matar’s alleged motives. It also includes an analysis of the threat from Iran and other recent assassination plots inside the U.S. tied to the Iranian regime. The bulletin was produced by the department’s intelligence division and is marked “Law Enforcement Sensitive.”

“A preliminary investigation into the suspected perpetrator’s probable social media presence indicates a likely adherence or sympathy towards Shi’a extremism and sympathies to the Iranian regime/Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC),” the NYPD intelligence bulletin says.

The report includes an image from a WhatsApp account NYPD says is likely tied to Matar featuring Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani and the leader of Iraq’s pro-Iranian militia movement, both of whom were killed by the U.S. in a January 2020 drone strike in Iraq authorized by President Trump.

“Likely indicating his ideological worldview, a WhatsApp account linked to Matar’s telephone number featured an illustration of two prominent Shi’a extremist figures: deceased Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the former head of Iran’s IRGC and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of Iraq’s pro-Iranian militia movement,” states the NYPD bulletin.

Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani
Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, center. (Press Office of Iranian Supreme Leader/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The report also says that New York State Police, after apprehending Matar, “recovered a fake New Jersey driver’s license, which appears to have used Matar’s photograph but the alias ‘Hassan Mughniyah.’ Although Hassan is a common name in several majority-Muslim countries, it may also be a reference to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezballah [a designated terrorist group based in Lebanon].”

“Additionally,” the report says, "the surname Mughniyah may refer to Imad Mughniyeh, who led Hizballah’s military, intelligence and security apparatuses and was the group’s second in command before his 2008 killing.”

The NYPD did not respond to Yahoo News' request for comment. The public defender representing Matar declined to comment.

A representative for Rushdie, literary agent Andrew Wylie, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He told the Associated Press that Rushdie was taken off a ventilator on Saturday, and suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye that he may lose.

According to the NYPD bulletin, "the apparent assassination attempt on Salman Rushdie by an individual with strong indicators of ideological support for the Iranian regime, specifically the IRGC, comes amid a series of recent high-profile plot disruptions involving individuals with ties to Iran targeting perceived enemies of Iran in the U.S.."

Hadi Matar
Hadi Matar of Fairview, N.J., has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault of acclaimed author Salman Rushdie. (Courtesy of Chautauqua County Jail/Handout via Reuters)

The report adds: “Salman Rushdie in particular has long been subject to death threats, particularly instigated by the Iranian government. Iran, in turn, maintains a strategic interest in operations targeting its ideological enemies abroad, especially as part of a revenge campaign for the aforementioned deaths of Soleimani and al-Muhandis, as well as more recent killings of high-ranking IRGC figures and nuclear experts,” the bulletin said.

An Iranian official denied involvement in the attack on Rushdie. “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 the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

“In this regard, no one can blame the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said, according to the AP. “We believe that the insults made and the support he received was an insult against followers of all religions.”

A New Jersey police officer stands guard near the building where Hadi Matar, the alleged attacker of Salman Rushdie, lives in Fairview, N.J.
A New Jersey police officer stands guard near the building where Hadi Matar, the alleged attacker of Salman Rushdie, lives in Fairview, N.J. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

The same Iranian spokesperson previously denied the regime’s involvement in a alleged assassination plot against John Bolton, a former national security adviser for the Trump administration. The plot was described at length in the criminal complaint and affidavit unsealed last week by the Justice Department. The suspect is a member of IRGC, according to the DOJ.

But Iran experts and others targeted by Iran say Rushdie’s attack further illustrates the threat posed by the Iranian regime inside the United States.

“Iran unquestionably incited violence against Rushdie for decades, which ultimately resulted in the horrific attack he is thankfully recovering from,” said Rob Greenway, former senior director for Middle Eastern and North African Affairs of the National Security Council.

Behnam Ben Taleblu, an expert on Iran and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that “based on the individual’s background and Iranian political context, at the very minimum, the attack appears to be spawned from the Islamic Republic’s sustained invective and fatwa against Rushdie.”

Taleblu is referencing the fatwa, a formal order given by an Islamic religious leader, that was issued in 1989 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then the supreme leader of Iran, who ordered Muslims to kill Rushdie.

The NYPD bulletin also references the plot against Bolton. The affidavit filed in that case described an unnamed high-ranking senior Trump administration official who was a secondary target, which Yahoo News reported was former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

National security adviser John Bolton, left, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2018.
National security adviser John Bolton, left, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

This is not the only recent plot tied to Iran.

The NYPD bulletin also mentions the recent arrest of a man who allegedly wanted to kill an Iranian journalist living in Brooklyn, N.Y. In late July, a man with a loaded AK-47 was arrested outside the Brooklyn home of Iranian dissident and journalist Masih Alinejad. Last year, Iranian agents allegedly plotted to kidnap her and take her to Iran.

“This string of high-level attacks and threats is proof that Iran-aligned actors retain the capability and intent to use terror, kidnapping and killings to get their way,” said Taleblu, who reviewed the NYPD bulletin for Yahoo News.

“The attempted killing of Rushdie cannot be divorced from other Iran-backed acts of terror abroad. The regime, be it by word or by deed, is proving that 43 years on its ideology is still lethal and that it has no compunction about reaching onto American soil in various ways.”

A general view shows UPMC Hamot Surgery Center, where novelist Salman Rushdie is receiving treatment after the attack, in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., August 12, 2022. REUTERS/Quinn Glabicki
The UPMC surgery center in Erie, Pa., where Rushdie has been receiving treatment since the attack. (Quinn Glabicki/Reuters)

Last month, Yahoo News revealed that the U.S. government believes Iran will try to assassinate current and former U.S. officials to retaliate for Soleimani's death.

In a recent interview with Yahoo News, John Bolton urged the Biden administration to cease negotiations with Iran. The administration has been trying to revive the 2015 nuclear deal which the Trump administration pulled out of.

The White House has told Yahoo News the Biden administration will continue its efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal because the president believes it’s in the best interest of the country and national security.

“Inking a nuclear deal with a regime that engages in such behavior would be akin to torching law enforcement and national security efforts to counter the panoply of these threats,” Taleblu told Yahoo News.

Thumbnail Credit: Islam Dogru/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images