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Attack on Rushdie follows series of threats against Iran’s opponents abroad

Author stabbed in New York had been issued death fatwa by Iranian leaders; stabbing comes after threats to dissident in New York, top US officials and opposition group in Albania

Local police and the FBI block the area around the home of Hadi Matar, suspected of stabbing Salman Rushdie, in Fairview, New Jersey, August 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
Local police and the FBI block the area around the home of Hadi Matar, suspected of stabbing Salman Rushdie, in Fairview, New Jersey, August 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

The stabbing of author Salman Rushdie on Friday in New York was the latest in a series of incidents targeting Iran’s opponents abroad.

An attacker stabbed Rushdie in the neck and abdomen at a literary event in Chautauqua, in western New York State, on Friday morning. He was hospitalized, underwent emergency surgery and remains on a ventilator with severe wounds.

Rushdie’s writing was deemed blasphemous by Iran’s leadership in the 1980s, and Iranian leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.

Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, and said it was “solid and irrevocable” in 2019, although the regime has not focused on Rushdie in recent years.

A suspect in Rushdie’s stabbing, Hadi Matar, was arrested at the scene of the attack.

A law enforcement official told NBC News that, according to a review of his social media activity, the suspect had sympathies for Shia Muslim extremists and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. There were no known direct links between Matar and Iran or the IRGC.

The attack followed several other high-profile threats against Iranian dissidents and the regime’s foes.

Last month, a man was arrested with an assault rifle in New York City outside the home of Iranian opposition activist and writer Masih Alinejad.

The suspect, Khalid Mehdiyev, was indicted on a weapons count on Friday.

Police arrested Mehdiyev after he was seen lurking near Alinejad’s Brooklyn home, looking in the window and trying to open the front door. He has been held without bail since his arrest on July 29.

Alinejad became a US citizen in 2019 after working for years as a journalist in Iran. She fled the country after its disputed 2009 presidential election and has become a prominent figure on Farsi-language satellite channels abroad that criticize Iran.

After Rushdie was stabbed, Alinejad said, “You can kill us but you cannot kill the idea of writing and fighting for our dignity.”

On Wednesday, the US Justice Department charged a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards over allegations he had offered to pay an individual in the US $300,000 to kill former US national security adviser John Bolton.

The plan was likely in retaliation for the US killing of top Guards commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq in January 2020, the department said.

The suspect, Guards member Shahram Poursafi, is also alleged to have dangled the possibility of a second target he said would earn the ostensible assassin $1 million. The court papers did not identify that alleged target, but according to US media outlet Axios, it was former secretary of state and CIA director Mike Pompeo.

The person Poursafi was dealing with was actually an informant for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the court filings.

Poursafi was charged with the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, which carries up to 10 years in prison; and with providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot, which carries a 15-year sentence.

The Justice Department said Poursafi remains at large and is believed to be in Iran.

Iran dismissed the plot as “fiction.”

Late last month, a prominent Iranian dissident group in Albania said it had canceled its annual summit following warnings from local authorities of a possible terrorist threat.

Some 3,000 Iranian dissidents from the group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, also known as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, or MEK, live at a site called Ashraf 3 in Manez, 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Albania’s capital, Tirana.

They had planned to hold the Free Iran World Summit at the site on July 23-24 to “call on the Biden administration to adopt a decisive policy against the Tehran regime.”

The event was supposed to be attended or joined online by various high-profile political delegations, including hundreds of lawmakers from six continents, organizers said.

A statement from the group said the summit was “postponed until further notice upon recommendations by the Albanian government, for security reasons, and due to terrorist threats and conspiracies.” The US embassy in Albania warned American citizens to keep away.

In June, Turkish police arrested five Iranian nationals accused of plotting attacks against Israeli targets in Istanbul, and in July, local reports said Turkey had foiled another Iranian attempt to target Israelis in the city.

Internally, Iran has also been cracking down on perceived threats.

Since June, Iranian authorities have arrested dozens of members of the Baha’i religious community, Iran’s largest non-Muslim minority group. This month, Iran demolished homes in a Baha’i village, arrested community leaders, confiscated property and shuttered Baha’i businesses.

Last month, Iran arrested several dissident filmmakers and a leading reformist figure on security charges.

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