Salman Rushdie still hospitalized as attack suspect pleads not guilty

Aug 13 (Reuters) – Acclaimed author Salman Rushdie remained hospitalized on Saturday with serious injuries a day after he was repeatedly stabbed during a public appearance in New York state as police sought to determine the motive for an attack that drew international condemnation.

The accused assailant, Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty to the charges of attempted murder and assault during a court appearance on Saturday, his assigned attorney told Reuters. Office, Nathaniel Barone.

Rushdie, 75, was scheduled to give a talk on artistic freedom at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York when police said Matar rushed onto the stage and stabbed the Indian-born writer, who had been living with a bounty on his head since his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” prompted Iran to urge Muslims to kill him.

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

Wylie did not respond to messages requesting updates on Rushdie’s condition on Saturday, although The New York Times reported that Rushdie had started speaking, quoting Wylie.

The knife attack has been condemned by writers and politicians around the world as an attack on free speech. In a statement on Saturday, President Joe Biden praised 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.”

Neither local nor federal officials provided additional details of the investigation on Saturday. Police said 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 Shiite extremism and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), although no definitive link was found. was found, according to NBC New York.

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

Asked to comment on the case, Matar’s lawyer Barone said: “We are in the early stages and quite frankly in cases like this I think the important thing to remember is that people have to keep an open mind. They need to look at everything. They can’t just assume that 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 license on him. He was arrested at the scene by a state trooper after being tackled to the ground by members of the public.

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

The assault was premeditated; Prosecutors said in court that Matar traveled by bus to the Chautauqua Institution, an educational retreat about 12 miles from the shores of Lake Erie, and purchased a pass that admitted him to the conference. Rushdie, reported the Times. Attendees said there were no obvious security checks.

The county attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.

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

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


Rushdie, who was born to a Kashmiri Muslim family in Bombay, now Mumbai, before moving to Britain, has long faced death threats for ‘The Satanic Verses’, believed by some Muslims to contain passages blasphemous. The book was banned in many countries with large Muslim populations.

In 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling on Muslims to kill the author and anyone involved in the publication of the book for blasphemy. Hitoshi Igarashi, the novel’s Japanese translator, was stabbed to death in 1991 in a case that remains unsolved.

There was no official reaction from the Iranian government to the attack on Rushdie, but several hardline Iranian newspapers praised his assailant. Read more

Iranian organizations, some linked to the government, collected a multi-million dollar bounty 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 local man. 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 Iranian-backed Hezbollah armed group in Lebanon, Tehfe said he had “no information at all” about their political views.

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

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Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Additional reporting by Randi Love in Fairview, New Jersey, Rami Ayyub and Ted Hesson in Washington and Timour Azhari in Beirut; Written by Nathan Layne and Joseph Axe; Editing by Alexander Smith and Daniel Wallis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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