US considering Iran sanctions over Salman Rushdie attack

The Biden administration is considering imposing sanctions on entities connected to Iran following the assassination attempt on author Salman Rushdie, who was stabbed at an event in New York last month.

The sanctions are being considered after attacks on the novelist have been encouraged for decades after the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses.

The sanctions could include limits on access to the international financial system for the entities being targeted, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Some of the entities have offered rewards for Mr Rushdie’s death. Iranian leaders have argued for Mr Rushdie to be killed for the 1988 book and the author lived under police protection for years.

He was stabbed several times just before he was set to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution on 12 August.

The suspect, Hadi Matar, is of Lebanese descent and a New Jersey resident. His motives for the attack are still under investigation.

Attorney Nathaniel Barone represents Mr Matar in New York. He entered a not guilty plea for his client last month.

(AFP via Getty Images)

US officials have said that parts of the Iranian government are responsible as they support the fatwa – Islamic edict – which was issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989. He called for Mr Rushdie’s killing because of the book. Some Muslims argued that the text was blasphemous because it fictionalized parts of the Prophet Muhammad’s life.

Ruhollah Khomeini was the first Supreme Leader of Iran, serving from 1979 until 1989.

No final decision on sanctions has been made, The Journal reported.

The 15th Khordad Foundation, a charity working under the Office of the Supreme Leader, placed a bounty on the author’s head in 1997 of $2.5m. It was raised to $2.8m the following year and to $3.3m in 2012. The organisation hasn’t commented on the assassination attempt on Mr Rushdie.

Media groups in Iran, such as the semi-official governmental Fars news agency, have said that they will add to the bounty. As many as 40 Iranian news outlets operated by the state added $600,000 to the bounty in 2016.

If organisations are targeted by sanctions, they may struggle to operate internationally, such as sending and receiving funds as well as making investments outside of Iran.

The Journal reported that the blacklisting of former Iranian officials, particularly those living outside of Iran, could cause those pushing the fatwa to think twice before speaking out.

The Iranian government instead blamed Mr Rushdie and denied that they had been involved.

Nasser Kanaani, a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, said that Mr Rushdie “exposed himself to the anger and rage of the people” by writing the 1988 book.

Tensions remain high between the US and Iran amid attempts to restart the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the nuclear deal struck between Iran, the US and several other countries in 2015.

The deal removed sanctions imposed on Iran, which allowed temporary limits to be enacted on its nuclear programme.

The US has offered Iran to remove sanctions that would boost its economy, but is unwilling to relax limits on Iran’s weapons efforts and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The corps, an elite military unit, has been branded as a terror organisation by the US.

A rebirth of the nuclear deal would also see sanctions connected to terrorism and human rights remain, according to The Journal, which added that the progression of talks on the deal has to be considered as the Biden administration considers new sanctions related to the attack on Mr Rushdie.

Iranian officials, who have not taken any measures to remove the fatwa, argue that it could only have been terminated by Mr Khomenei, who passed away in 1989.

Numerous Iranian governments have argued that the 15th Khordad Foundation isn’t part of the state, but they have also not taken any action to censure the group, The Journal noted.

A State Department spokesperson told The Independent that Mr Rushdie has stood up for human rights and that after Iranian government entities encouraged attacks on him for decades, and that media linked to the state gloated about the stabbing in New York, something the spokesperson said was repugnant.

The spokesperson added that the department doesn’t preview sanctions but that the US won’t shy away from standing up to violent threats, employing every tool available.

The spokesperson said that regardless if a return to the Iran nuclear deal takes place, the Biden Administration will retain the ability to put in place sanctions, including on Iranian individuals and entities supporting terrorism or human rights violations.

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