Welcome back to Semafor Security.
Attacks on writers and journalists seem to generate varying levels of international outrage. The 2018 murder of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, spawned years of in-depth coverage and at least two streaming documentaries. The Filipino journalist Maria Ressa won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize after being persecuted by the Philippines’ former President Rodrigo Duterte.
But the brutal stabbing last summer in rural New York of the Indian-British writer, Salman Rushdie, has surprisingly retreated from the international headlines. This despite the grisly nature of the assault and the fact that Rushdie has faced an Iranian fatwa calling for his death since 1989. Indeed, this original edict had made him one of the world’s most famous scribes.
To find out where the Rushdie case stands, I drove six hours this week from Washington to the lakeside county of Chautauqua, New York. The idyllic setting is hardly the place where I’d have expected an assassin to try and make good on Ayatollah Ruhollah Khamenei’s call for the writer’s death. The Chautauqua Institute, where Rushdie was speaking on August 12, 2022, is known for its focus on promoting religious tolerance and education.
But the Chautauqua County’s District Attorney Jason Schmidt surprised me during an interview by explaining that the U.S. government hasn’t closed off the possibility that foreign actors may have been involved in the attack on American soil. The case, he said, is very much focused on the alleged assailant, New Jersey’s Hadi Matar, who has largely been portrayed by the media as a lone wolf. But Schmidt said the U.S. Attorney’s Office is “engaged in their own investigation and, you know, potential prosecution” of other players — including potentially from Iran and the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah.
The trial of Matar is expected to start early next year.
Also in today’s newsletter: Karina Tsui unpacks Wagner commander Yevgeny Prigozhin’s final viral video. And I profile the Gabonese general who ended nearly 55 years of Bongo family rule in the Central African country this week.
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