Salman Rushdie stabbing suspect Hadi Matar ‘had fake driving licence using name of Hizbollah leader’

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Hadi Matar is taken away from the scene on Friday morning by police officers - AP
Hadi Matar is taken away from the scene on Friday morning by police officers - AP

The suspect detained over the stabbing of Sir Salman Rushdie is reported to have been carrying a fake driving licence using the name of a Hizbollah leader allied to slain Iranian general Qassim Soleimani.

FBI agents were on Friday night scouring the home of suspected attacker Hadi Matar, 24, in Fairview, New Jersey, and questioning friends to try to understand his motive for stabbing Rushdie in a literary festival in western New York on Friday morning.

Rushdie is reportedly on a ventilator and may lose an eye, his agent said on Friday night. Andrew Wylie told the New York Times that the news was "not good," adding that Rushdie could not speak, while the nerves in his arm were severed in the attack and his liver was "stabbed and damaged".

Police, who have not officially charged Mr Matar, said they believed the attacker was acting alone and are yet to establish his motivation.

Fox News and several other US media outlets on Friday night published a copy of a driving licence ID the suspect had been using, which bore the suspect’s birthdate and address with the fake name “Hassan Mughnaiyah”.

Mughniyah is the family name of Imad Mughniyah, the second-in-command of Lebanese Shia militant movement Hizbollah who was killed by the CIA in 2008 in Syria.

FBI agents are searching the home of the suspected attacker - REUTERS
FBI agents are searching the home of the suspected attacker - REUTERS

A Facebook account linked to the suspect by law enforcement officials quoted by NBC News had posted pictures of Soleimani - killed in a US drone strike in 2020 - as well as Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who issued Rushdie’s 1989 fatwa, as well as his successor Ayatollah Khamenei.

The account was taken down late on Friday night.

There are no definitive links to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps causes, but the initial intelligence assessment indicated he is sympathetic to the Iranian government group, an official told NBC.

The British author has lived under the shadow of a fatwa imposed 33 years ago following the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses, which many Muslims consider blasphemous.

Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 called for Rushdie’s death, while in 2012 an Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty on Rushdie's head to $3.3 million (£2.7 million).

‘Matar is a devout Muslim who talked about kindness’

Officers at Mr Matar’s home were seen talking to a woman thought to be his sister, but the family declined to speak to the media.

Neighbours on the tree-lined street of detached houses described a quiet family who moved several years ago. Some said they believed the Matars were originally from Lebanon.

Wilbur Iza said the neighbourhood was not particularly close-knit and that it was quite ethnically mixed, with residents moving in and out the area often.

Mr Matar was said to attend the local mosque.

A spokesperson for the local State of Fitness Boxing Club told The Telegraph that Mr Matar had signed up for boxing class a few months ago, but they knew little about him.

Mr Matar is believed to have moved from California to New Jersey in around 2014.

One student at secondary school Mr Matar attended described him as a “devout practising Muslim” who would pray every day.

“He took (his faith) seriously and did the washing of the feet in our high school restroom,” said Gabriel Sanchez, 24, who attended the Elizabeth Learning Center with Mr Matar. “The only time I ever saw him get heated was when it came to anything was with our biology teacher at the end of the year where he wrote in his evaluation of the class that he hated how he talked about religion.”

He said Mr Matar, who was born nine years after Ayatollah Khomeini put a fatwa out on Rushdie, never spoke about Iran or The Satanic Verses writer.

“He was a devout Muslim and one of the few things that I remember talking to him about was kindness,” Mr Sanchez said. “That's how I remember him and why I wish this isn't him.”