Salman Rushdie attack suspect pleads not guilty

The novelist was likely to lose an eye and had nerve damage in his arm and wounds to his liver



Hadi Matar arrives for an arraignment in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville. — AP
Hadi Matar arrives for an arraignment in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville. — AP

By Reuters

Published: Sun 14 Aug 2022, 1:51 AM

Acclaimed author Salman Rushdie remained hospitalised on Saturday with serious injuries a day after he was repeatedly stabbed at a public appearance in New York, while police sought to determine the motive behind an attack that drew international condemnation.

The accused attacker, 24-year-old Hadi Matar of Fairview, New Jersey, entered a not guilty plea at a court appearance on Saturday, his court-appointed lawyer, Nathaniel Barone, told Reuters.

Rushdie, 75, was set to deliver a lecture on artistic freedom at Chautauqua Institution in western New York when police say Matar rushed the stage and stabbed the Indian-born writer, who has lived with a bounty on his head since his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” prompted Iran to urge Muslims to kill him.

Following hours of surgery, Rushdie was on a ventilator and unable to speak as of Friday evening, according to his agent, Andrew Wylie. The novelist was likely to lose an eye and had nerve damage in his arm and wounds to his liver, Wylie said in an email.

The stabbing was condemned by writers and politicians around the world as an assault on freedom of expression. In a statement on Saturday, US President Joe Biden commended the “universal ideals” that Rushdie and his work embody.

“Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear,” Biden said. “These are the building blocks of any free and open society.”

Police said on Friday they had not established a motive for the attack.

An initial law enforcement review of Matar’s social media accounts showed he was sympathetic to Shi’ite extremism and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), although no definitive links had been found, according to NBC New York.

The IRGC is a powerful faction that controls a business empire as well as elite armed and intelligence forces that Washington accuses of carrying out a global extremist campaign.

Asked to comment on the case, Matar’s lawyer Barone said: “We’re kind of in the early stages and, quite frankly, in cases like this, I think the important thing to remember is people need to keep an open mind. They need to look at everything. They can’t just assume something happened for why they think something happened.”

A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday, he said.

Matar was born in California and recently moved to New Jersey, the NBC New York report said, adding that he had a fake driver’s licence on him. He was arrested at the scene by a state trooper after being wrestled to the ground by audience members.

Witnesses said he did not speak as he attacked the author. Rushdie was stabbed 10 times, prosecutors said during Matar’s arraignment, according to the New York Times.

FBI officials went to Matar’s last listed address, in Fairview, a Bergen County borough just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, on Friday evening, NBC New York reported.

Police in New York declined to comment on the report. New Jersey police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

There was no visible police presence on Saturday at the house, a two-story brick-and-mortar home in a largely Spanish-speaking neighbourhood. A woman who entered the house declined to speak to reporters gathered outside.

There has been no official government reaction in Iran to the attack on Rushdie, but several hardline Iranian newspapers praised his assailant.

Iranian organisations, some linked to the government, have raised a bounty worth millions of dollars for Rushdie’s murder. Khomeini’s successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said as recently as 2019 that the fatwa was “irrevocable”.

Ali Tehfe, mayor of Yaroun in southern Lebanon, said Matar was the son of a man from the town. The suspect’s parents emigrated to the United States and he was born and raised there, the mayor added.

Asked whether Matar or his parents were affiliated with or supported the Iran-backed Hezbollah armed group in Lebanon, Tehfe said he had “no information at all” on their political views.

A Hezbollah official told Reuters on Saturday that the group had no additional information on the attack on Rushdie.


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