Rishi Sunak has said the stabbing of Sir Salman Rushdie should be a ‘wake-up call’ for the West about the threat which Iran still poses.
In the aftermath of the attack on the 75-year-old author, the former chancellor warned attempts to revive the international Iran nuclear deal may have reached a ‘dead end’.
The Tory leadership contender also suggested that there could be a case for imposing sanctions on Iran’s hardline Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
On Saturday, Hadi Matar, from Fairview, New Jersey, entered pleas of not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault at court in Mayville, New York State.
The 24-year-old was born in the US to parents who emigrated from southern Lebanon – and a review of his social media accounts suggested he was sympathetic to the cause of the IRGC, according to US media reports.
Sir Salman had been living with death threats since 1988 when Iran’s then supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeni issued a fatwa denouncing his novel, The Satanic Verses, as blasphemous to Islam.
In 1998, the Iranian government withdrew its support for the death sentence but the fatwa was never fully rescinded and some Iranian media have reportedly welcomed the attack on the writer.
Iranian politician Malek Shariati said it was a ‘warning to the killers of Qasem Soleimani’, the former head of the country’s elite Quds Force, who was taken out by a US drone strike in Baghdad in 2020.
He added: ‘If the attack on Salman Rushdie is an operation by Iran, it shows our power. If the attacker has done it under the influence of Iran, it proves the success of our Islamic revolution.’
Sir Salman remains on a hospital ventilator after suffering a damaged liver and severed nerves in his arm in the brutal knife attack on Friday morning. His spokesman said he is likely to lose an eye.
In a statement, Mr Sunak suggested attempts to revive the international nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) under which Iran was supposed to give up its attempts to develop nuclear weapons in return for the easing of sanctions may be futile.
Rishi Sunak (pictured) warned attempts to revive the international Iran nuclear deal may have reached a ‘dead end’ following stabbing of 75-year-old Sir Salman Rushdie
British-born Booker Prize winning author Sir Salman Rushdie (pictured in 2007) received death threats and was issued a fatwah by Iran for his 1988 novel, the Satanic Verses. He has lived in the U.S. since 2000 and was preparing to give a lecture about America being a haven for writers in exile
Hadi Matar, 24, center, arrives for an arraignment in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, NY on Saturday
‘A nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to our ally Israel, and indeed imperil the whole of Europe with ballistic missile capability,’ he said.
‘We urgently need a new, strengthened deal and much tougher sanctions, and if we can’t get results then we have to start asking whether the JCPOA is at a dead end.
‘The brutal stabbing of Salman Rushdie should be a wake-up call for the West, and Iran’s reaction to the attack strengthens the case for proscribing the IRGC.’
Rushdie’s injuries included three stab wounds to the right side of the front of his neck, four stab wounds to his stomach, puncture wounds to his right eye and chest, and a laceration on his right thigh, according to CNN.
Meanwhile, the FBI said it was supporting state police and ‘working closely with our international partners in the United Kingdom to provide additional resources, since the victim is a UK-US dual citizen’.
Earlier, Boris Johnson said he was ‘appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend’.
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘Salman Rushdie has long embodied the struggle for liberty and freedom against those who seek to destroy them.
‘This cowardly attack on him yesterday is an attack on those values. The whole Labour Party is praying for his full recovery.’
US President Joe Biden said he was ‘shocked and saddened’ by the attack on the writer.
‘Salman Rushdie – with his insight into humanity, with his unmatched sense for story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced – stands for essential, universal ideals. Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear,’ he said.
‘These are the building blocks of any free and open society. And today, we reaffirm our commitment to those deeply American values in solidarity with Rushdie and all those who stand for freedom of expression.’
Matar appeared in court last night in handcuffs, a black-and-white jumpsuit and face mask to deny charges of attempted murder and assault.
He was remanded in custody following the brief hearing.
Sir Salman was about to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution when a masked knifeman stormed the stage and attacked him.
In a three-minute video clip shared by one of the attendees, people could be heard screaming and gasping as a dozen audience members, including a police officer, rushed to the stage and wrestled the attacker off the author.
Blood was left spattered across a chair and a screen after the frenzied attack.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges and has been remanded without bail after being moved from the New York State Police barracks in Jamestown after the attack on Friday
This still image from video shows a man being escorted from the stage as people tend to author Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie (pictured signing a book in France in 2008) might lose an eye after being stabbed and seriously injured
A US law enforcement source said that initial evidence indicated that Matar was ‘sympathetic’ to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Shia extremism, broadcaster NBC News reported.
The IRGC is accused of sponsoring terrorism and spreading militancy across the world.
Matar was born in the US to Lebanese parents who emigrated from the southern border town of Yaroun, a stronghold of the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah.
Pictures of the town showed billboards emblazoned with the image of Ayatollah Khomeini.
A Hezbollah official said they don’t ‘know anything’ about Matar’s attack and declined to comment.
Fouad Komayah, who was married to Matar’s mother, wept when told the news about his former stepson and said he had ‘no idea’ about his political sympathies.
He told the Mail on Sunday: ‘Hadi? No! Hadi? Hadi? Hadi is a very good boy, he is smart, he has a good heart. He wouldn’t touch anybody.’
Matar was last night described as a loner who is believed to have lived with his mother and two sisters in a smart detached home in Fairview, New Jersey, for the past three years.
‘They are a normal, very nice, very American family,’ one neighbour said.
Helpers cradle the wounded author: Satanic Verse author Salman Rushdie is helped by people after he was stabbed on stage
The fake driver’s license that was found on 24-year-old Hadi Mater bore the name Hassan Mughniyah. Both, the first and second names are linked to infamous terrorist organization Hezbollah
Sir Salman Rushdie was put on a stretcher and airlifted to hospital after the shocking stabbing this morning
Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie spent years in hiding after being issued ‘spiritual’ death threat by Iran
Sir Salman Rushdie is a Booker Prize-winning author and novelist.
The 75-year-old was born in India, and his writing is often based around the themes of connections and migrations between Western and Eastern civilizations.
He won the Booker Prize in 1981 for his second novel, Midnight’s Children. His writing has spawned 30 book-length studies, and over 700 articles on his writing.
Rushdie’s writings have broadly been acclaimed to the genres of magical realism and historical fiction.
He has been living in the US since 2000, and he was named a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University in 2015.
He has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, including for Midnight’s Children, in 1983 for Shame, in 1988 for The Satanic Versus, in 1995 for The Moor’s Last Sign, and in 2019 for Quichotte.
Rushdie, 75, is an Indian-born acclaimed author and novelist
‘I never saw any red flags with him. We talked about working out and fitness and food. We used to go boxing together but we didn’t do sparring – we did jumping, punching a bag, not the heavy stuff.
‘I would say he was a loner and I didn’t see him with friends and I don’t think he socialised much.’
At least ten FBI agents searched the house until the early hours of this morning. The family is believed to own three SUVs, including a silver Jeep, but Matar did not drive.
The neighbour added: ‘The last time I saw him was on Monday and he seemed like his normal self. We were talking about going for food at a Turkish restaurant nearby.’
Before moving to New Jersey, Matar is believed to have attended the Elizabeth Learning Centre in Cudahy, California.
Former classmate Gabriel Sanchez told the Daily Beast website that Matar never spoke about Iran or Sir Salman.
‘He was a devout Muslim, and one of the few things that I remember talking to him about was kindness.’
Sir Salman was flown to hospital after the attack, where he received emergency surgery.
Spokesman Andrew Wylie said: ‘The news is not good. Salman will likely lose one eye. The nerves in his arm were severed, and his liver was damaged.’
The author lived under 24-hour police guard and was often forced to move home for about a decade after the fatwa was issued and a £2.5 million bounty put on his head.
By 1998 the Iranian regime said it no longer supported the fatwa and the author began to appear again at public events.
In an interview just two weeks ago, Sir Salman, who was knighted in 2008, described his life as now ‘relatively normal’.
He told German news magazine Stern that he would have been in a lot more danger if social media had been around at the time he wrote The Satanic Verses.
New Jersey Police officers stand guard near the building where alleged attacker Hadi Matar, lives in Fairview, New Jersey
A Homeland Security Investigations Police officer enters the building where Salman Rushdie’s alleged attacker Hadi Matar, lives in Fairview, New Jersey
Neighbours look on as Salman Rushdie attack suspect’s home is raided by the FBI and local police
The Seventh Wave: Rushdie’s last published work focused on spies and assassinations
Salman Rushdie was serializing a novella called The Seventh Wave, on Sub Stack, which appeared to have a heavy focus on spies and organized killings.
His latest piece of writing referenced men in ‘sodden balaclavas’:
The four men in black wearing sodden balaclavas are out in the open, closing in. ANNA and FRANCIS are on the terrace of the house, holding guns.
FIRST MAN (shouting)
Come down, Anna, Nobody gonna hurt you. And the other individual we don’t require.
ANNA (shouting back)
Hello, boys! Would you like a refreshing drink?
(They come closer.)
SECOND MAN (also shouting)
Don’t you crack wise now, Anna. No, we do not need no fucking drink. Maybe you didn’t notice it’s wet out.
ANNA (still shouting)
We have towels. You need to dry your hair?
They are within range now. This is too easy. We can take them all.
I don’t know, Anna. I can’t do it.
Credit: Sub Stack
‘More dangerous, infinitely more dangerous,’ he said.
‘A fatwa is a serious thing. Luckily we didn’t have the internet back then. The Iranians had send the fatwa to the mosques by fax. That’s all a long time ago. Nowadays my life is very normal again.’
He added that while in the past he would have been most afraid of ‘religious fanaticism’, now the ‘biggest danger’ is ‘that we lose our democracy.’
He said he was ‘seriously concerned’ following the Supreme Court abortion ruling that the problems facing the US are ‘irreparable and the country will break apart’, adding that the ‘greatest danger facing us is this kind of cryptofascism that we see in America and elsewhere.’
He continued: ‘Oh, we live in scary times. That’s true even though I always tell people: don’t be afraid. But the bad thing is that death threats have become more normal. Not only politicians get them, even American teachers who take certain books off the syllabus.
‘Look at how many guns there are in America. The existence of all these weapons in itself is scary. I think a lot of people today live with similar threats to the ones I had back then. And the fax machines they used against me is like a bicycle rather than a Ferrari compared with the internet.’
Shockingly, several Iranian newspapers yesterday poured praise on Rushdie’s attacker.
The hardline Kayhan newspaper, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, wrote: ‘A thousand bravos… to the brave and dutiful person who attacked the apostate and evil Salman Rushdie in New York.’
The attack sent shockwaves through the literary and political worlds. Historian and friend Sir Simon Schama said: ‘A lot of us rashly and stupidly thought the time of assassination and murder in the name of some belief or other were over, especially as Salman had been so brave, so courageous and so successful in leading such a normal life.’
Boris Johnson said he was ‘appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend.’
The Satanic Verses last night soared to fifth place on Amazon’s fiction bestseller list.