Salman Rushdie attack was ‘pre-planned’, prosecutor says

MAYVILLE, NY (AP) – The man charged with the stabbing attack on Salman Rushdie pleaded not guilty Saturday to attempted murder and assault in what a prosecutor called a “preplanned” crime, as 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 attacking Rushdie on Friday as the perpetrator 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.

READ MORE: Salman Rushdie hospitalized as police seek motive for stabbing

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 for his longstanding advocacy 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 hinted at the fatwa as a potential ground for arguing against 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.

Authorities said Matar is from Fairview, New Jersey. He was born in the United States to Lebanese parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, village mayor Ali Tehfe told The Associated Press.

Flags of the Iran-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah and portraits of leader Hassan Nasrallah, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his late predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and slain Iranian general Qassem Soleimani are visible throughout the village, which also has a small Christian population. .

Journalists visiting the village on Saturday were asked to leave. Hezbollah spokesmen did not respond to inquiries about Matar and the attack.

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 say 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.

The stabbing reverberated from the sleepy town of Chautauqua to the United Nations, which issued a statement expressing horror at Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and stressing that freedom of expression and opinion must not be fought with violence.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After the publication of “The Satanic Verses”, often violent protests erupted across the Muslim world against Rushdie, who was born into a Muslim family and has long identified as a non-believer, once calling himself “an atheist pure and hard.”

At least 45 people were killed in riots over the book, including 12 people 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. Rushdie emerged after nine years in solitary confinement and cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism as a whole.

In 2012, Rushdie 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,” he said.

The Chautauqua Institution, about 89 miles southwest of Buffalo in a rural corner of New York, has served for more than a century as a place of reflection and spiritual guidance. Visitors don’t go through metal detectors or undergo bag checks, and most people leave the doors of their century-old cabins unlocked at night.

The center is known for its summer lecture series, where Rushdie has previously spoken.

At a Friday evening vigil, a few hundred residents and visitors gathered for prayer, music and a long moment of silence.

“Hate cannot win,” one man shouted.


Italy reported from New York. Associated Press reporter Kareem Chehayeb contributed reporting from Beirut.


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