Hadi Matar, the 24-year-old man accused of stabbing author Salman Rushdie in New York on Friday, had been in direct contact with members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on social media, European and Middle Eastern intelligence officials told VICE World News on Sunday.
A NATO counter-terrorism official from a European country said the stabbing of Rushdie had all the hallmarks of a “guided” attack, where an intelligence service talks a supporter into action, without direct support or involvement in the attack itself.
“Close scrutiny needs to be paid to his communications,” said the NATO official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “More investigation will reveal more information on the exact nature of the links.”
There is no evidence Iranian officials were involved in organizing or orchestrating the attack on Rushdie, VICE World News noted. Security officials who confirmed the social media contact would not elaborate on the nature of the communications because investigations are ongoing. They would not disclose who initiated the contact, when it took place, or what was discussed.
A Middle Eastern intelligence official said it was “clear” that at some point prior to the attack, Matar had been in contact with “people either directly involved with or adjacent to the Quds Force,” referring to the Revolutionary Guard’s external operations force.
“It’s unclear the extent of the involvement, if this was a directly supported assassination attempt or if it was a series of suggestions and directions in picking a target,” said the official, who could not speak on the record for diplomatic reasons.
Eyewitnesses said that Rushdie was stabbed 10 to 15 times during Friday’s attack. Rushdie fell to the floor immediately, as the attacker was restrained, they added.
Rushdie, who was taken to hospital by helicopter and treated for stab wounds to his liver, arm, and one eye, may lose the use of one of his eyes.
On Sunday, Rushdie’s son Zafar Rushdie wrote on Twitter that his father was in critical condition and had sustained “life changing” injuries, but had been taken off a ventilator and had been able to speak.
Rushdie since 1989 has been the target of an Iranian fatwa calling for his murder for allegedly blaspheming Islam and its prophet Mohammed in his book "The Satanic Verses."
In 2012, an Iranian foundation added another $500,000 to the reward for killing Rushdie, raising the total bounty for his death to $3.3 million.
Rushdie spent a decade in hiding after Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued the 1989 fatwa against him for his book.
Although Iran's foreign ministry in 1998 assured Britain that Iran would do nothing to implement the fatwa, current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in January 2005 reaffirmed that Rushdie was considered an apostate whose murder was authorized under Islam.
In 2019, Twitter temporarily banned an account connected to Khamenei after it posted a message threatening Rushdie.