Prosecutor: Knife attack on Salman Rushdie was ‘pre-planned’ | New
MAYVILLE, NY (AP) – The man charged in the knife attack on Salman Rushdie pleaded not guilty on Saturday to attempted murder and assault in what a prosecutor called a “pre-planned” crime, while the famous author of “The Satanic Verses” remained hospitalized with serious injuries .
A lawyer for Hadi Matar argued on his behalf at an arraignment in western New York. The suspect appeared in court wearing a black and white jumpsuit and white face mask with his hands cuffed in front of him.
A judge ordered him held without bond after District Attorney Jason Schmidt told him Matar had taken steps to deliberately put himself in a position to harm Rushdie, getting an advance pass for the event where the author was speaking and arriving a day early with a fake ID.
“This was a targeted, unprovoked, pre-planned attack on Mr. Rushdie,” Schmidt said.
Public defender Nathaniel Barone complained that authorities took too long to bring Matar before a judge while leaving him “hanging from a bench in the state police barracks”.
“He has this constitutional right to the presumption of innocence,” Barone added.
Matar, 24, is accused of having attacking Rushdie on Friday as the author was featured at a conference at the Chautauqua Institute, a nonprofit education and retreat center.
Rushdie, 75, suffered liver damage and severed nerves in an arm and eye, and was on a ventilator and unable to speak, his agent Andrew Wylie said on Friday evening. Rushdie was in danger of losing the injured eye.
The attack has prompted shock and outrage from much of the world, as well as tributes and praise for the award-winning author who for more than 30 years faced death threats for “The satanic verses”.
Authors, activists and government officials have cited Rushdie’s courage and longstanding defense of free speech despite risks to his own safety. Writer and longtime friend Ian McEwan called Rushdie “an inspirational advocate for persecuted writers and journalists around the world”, and actor-author Kal Penn cited him as a role model “for a whole generation of artists, especially for many of us in the South Asian diaspora, towards whom he showed incredible warmth.
President Joe Biden said in a statement on Saturday that he and first lady Jill Biden were “shocked and saddened” by the attack.
“Salman Rushdie – with his insight into humanity, with his unrivaled sense of history, with his refusal to be bullied or silenced – represents essential and universal ideals,” the statement read. “Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society.
Rushdie, originally from India who has since lived in Britain and the United States, is known for his surreal and satirical style of prose, beginning with his 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel ‘Midnight’s Children’ in which he sharply criticized the Indian Prime Minister at the time. , Indira Gandhi.
“The Satanic Verses” drew death threats after it was published in 1988, with many Muslims considering a dream sequence based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad to be blasphemy, among other objections. Rushdie’s book had already been banned and burned in India, Pakistan and elsewhere before Iranian Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.
Khomeini died the same year, but the fatwa remains in effect. Iran’s current supreme leader, Khamenei, has never issued a fatwa himself to revoke the edict, although Iran in recent years has not focused on the writer.
Investigators were trying to determine if the attacker, who was born a decade after the publication of “Satanic Verses”, acted alone.
District Attorney Schmidt alluded to the fatwa as a potential ground for opposing bail.
“Even if this court were to set a bond of $1 million, we run the risk that the bond could be met,” Schmidt said.
“His resources don’t matter to me. We understand that the program that was executed yesterday is something that has been embraced and sanctioned by larger groups and organizations far beyond the jurisdictional boundaries of Chautauqua County,” the prosecutor said.
Barone, the public defender, said after the hearing that Matar was communicating openly with him and that he would spend the next few weeks trying to find out more about his client, including whether he had any psychological issues or addictions.
Matar is from Fairview, New Jersey. Rosaria Calabrese, director of the State of Fitness Boxing Club, a small gym near North Bergen, said Matar joined on April 11 and participated in about 27 group sessions for beginners looking to improve their fitness before emailed him several days ago to say he wanted to cancel his membership because “he won’t be back for a while”.
Gym owner Desmond Boyle said he saw “nothing violent” about Matar, describing him as polite and calm, but someone who always looked “extremely sad”. He said Matar resisted attempts by him and others to take him in and hire him.
“He had that look every time he walked in. It looked like it was the worst day of his life,” Boyle said.
Matar was born in the United States to immigrant parents from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, the village’s mayor, Ali Tehfe, told The Associated Press.
Flags are seen in the village of the Iran-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah and portraits of leader Hassan Nasrallah, Khamenei, Khomeini and slain Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
Journalists visiting Yaroun on Saturday were asked to leave. Hezbollah spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.
Iran’s theocratic government and its state media attributed no motive to the attack. In Tehran, some Iranians interviewed by the AP welcomed the attack on a perpetrator who they said tarnished the Islamic faith, while others feared it could further isolate their country.
An AP reporter saw the assailant stab or punch Rushdie about 10 or 15 times. Dr Martin Haskell, a doctor who was among those rushing to help, described Rushdie’s injuries as “serious but recoverable”.
Event moderator Henry Reese, 73, suffered a facial injury and was treated and discharged from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie had planned to discuss the United States as a haven for exiled writers and other artists.
A state trooper and a county sheriff’s deputy were assigned to the Rushdie conference, and state police said the trooper made the arrest. But afterwards, some longtime visitors to the center wondered why security wasn’t tightened given the threats against Rushdie and a bounty of more than $3 million on his head.
News of the stabbing sparked renewed interest in ‘The Satanic Verses’, which topped bestseller lists after the fatwa was published in 1989. On Saturday afternoon, the novel is ranked #13 on Amazon.co.uk.
The publication of the book in 1988 sparked often violent protests across the Muslim world against Rushdie, who was born into a Muslim family and has long identified as a non-believer, once calling himself a “hardcore atheist”.
At least 45 people were killed in riots, including 12 in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.
Death threats and the bounty drove Rushdie into hiding under a UK government protection scheme, which included a 24-hour armed guard. After nine years in solitary confinement, Rushdie cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his open criticism of religious extremism as a whole.
In 2012, he published a fatwa memoir titled “Joseph Anton”, the pseudonym Rushdie used while in hiding.
He told a conference in New York that year that terrorism was truly the art of fear: “The only way to defeat it is to decide not to be afraid.”
Italy reported from New York. Associated Press reporter Kareem Chehayeb contributed reporting from Beirut.