Drastic rethink of security likely in wake of Salman Rushdie attack

Salman Rushdie spent nine years in hiding following the issue of a notorious fatwa authorising his killing.

Though he will be loth to return to that kind of existence, the attack on him last week will most likely lead to a drastic rethink of his security.

In the years after the fatwa was issued in February 1989, Rushdie moved from rented house to rented house and rarely appeared in public.

One outing on Have I Got News for You caused a sensation in June 1994, five years after he disappeared from public sight.

The Sun newspaper commented: “Have I Got News For You is a funny programme but taxpayers won’t have been laughing last. We pay a fortune to protect Salman Rushdie, who’s supposed to be in hiding.”

Rushdie explained what life in hiding was like in a third-person, auto-biographical book, published in September 2012, called Joseph Anton – the false name Rushdie adopted in tribute to Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.

In it, Rushdie explained that he was told he was on level two – which meant he was considered to be in more danger than anyone in the UK, except perhaps the Queen – and as he was being menaced by a foreign power, he was entitled to the protection of the British state.”

He was allocated two plain-clothes protection officers, armed with handguns, two drivers and two armoured cars – a Jaguar and a Range Rover – the second in case the first one broke down.

The Special Branch operation was codenamed Malachite and the officers, who were with him around the clock, worked on a two-week rota and had to volunteer for the job.

Scotland Yard refused to reveal how much the security operation cost but it was rumoured to run to many millions of pounds. In May 1995 Lady Blatch, a government minister, told parliament: “It is standard practice not to disclose the costs of protecting an individual in order to avoid the risk that the scale of that protection could be deduced.”

On Monday, the Metropolitan police repeated the line, stating simply: “The Met does not discuss matters of protective security.”

Rushdie began living, first in Los Angeles, and then in New York, where he felt he could enjoy a greater degree of freedom, often mixing in celebrity circles.

In April 2000, 17 months before 9/11, the New York Observer quoted a fellow diner saying: “We can’t enjoy our meal. We don’t want to die because of his fatwa. It’s so passive-aggressive toward people in Manhattan. We have enough trouble here.”

The article added: “Now that Mr Rushdie is in town, it’s unclear what kind of protection, if any, New York City will offer.”

Detective Joseph Pentangelo of the New York police department press office told the newspaper: “Usually there’s an assessment done, and the wishes of the subject is taken into consideration.

“The intelligence division doesn’t want to talk about any kind of strategy. They feel discussing strategies would compromise the same strategies.”

Rushdie preferred not to have security.

“The police always had enormous respect for my privacy,” he once explained. “They understood it was very difficult for me to live in a house with four strangers.”

The threats, however, were real: on 2 July 1993, Islamic militants set fire to a hotel in eastern Turkey in an attempt to kill author Aziz Nesin, who translated The Satanic Verses into Turkish.

On 3 July, Ettore Capriolo, the Italian translator of the book, was attacked with a knife at his apartment in Milan but survived.

Nine days later, Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was stabbed several times and his body left in a corridor outside his office at the University of Tsukuba.

William Nygaard, the Norwegian publisher of The Satanic Verses, was shot three times on 11 October 1993 but survived.

The threat of death never really went away; Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s deputy, threatened to retaliate against Britain for giving a knighthood to Rushdie in July 2007.

He issued a 20-minute audiotape titled in which he said: “If you did not learn the lesson then we are ready to repeat it, God willing, until we are sure you have fully understood.”


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