MAYVILLE, New York: The man accused of the stabbing attack on Salman Rushdie on Saturday pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault, what a prosecutor called a “preplanned” crime, since the acclaimed author of “The Satanic Verses” co-authored serious consequences in the hospital remained injuries.
An attorney for Hadi Matar entered the plea on his behalf during an indictment hearing in western New York. The suspect appeared in court wearing black and white overalls and a white face mask, his hands tied in front of him.
A judge ordered him held without bail after District Attorney Jason Schmidt told her Matar had taken steps to intentionally put himself in a position to harm Rushdie, receive an advance for the event at which the author was speaking, and arrived 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 it took authorities too long to bring Matar before a judge while leaving him “connected to a bank at the state police barracks.”
“He has this constitutional right to be presumed innocent,” Barone added.
Matar, 24, is accused of assaulting Rushdie on Friday as the author was being introduced at a talk at the Chautauqua Institute, a nonprofit education and retreat center.
Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in one arm and one eye, was on a ventilator and unable to speak, his agent Andrew Wylie said Friday night. Rushdie would probably lose the injured eye.
ALSO READ: Rushdie Attacker Background Sheds Light on Khomeini Supporters in the US
The attack was met with shock and outrage across much of the world, along with tributes and praise for the award-winning author, who has faced death threats for The Satanic Verses for more than 30 years.
Authors, activists and government officials have hailed Rushdie’s courage and longstanding commitment to free speech despite the risks to his own safety. Writer and longtime friend Ian McEwan called Rushdie “an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists around the world,” and actor and author Kal Penn called him a role model “for an entire generation of artists, especially for many of us in the South Asian diaspora.” , to whom he showed incredible warmth.”
President Joe Biden said in a statement Saturday that he and First Lady Jill Biden were “shocked and saddened” by the attack.
“Salman Rushdie — with his insight into humanity, with his unmatched sense of story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced — represents essential, universal ideals,” the statement said. “Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society.”
Rushdie, an Indian by birth who has since lived in the UK and US, is known for his surreal and satirical prose style, beginning with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel Midnight’s Children, in which he harshly criticized the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi.
“The Satanic Verses” drew death threats upon its release in 1988, with many Muslims considering, among other things, a dream sequence based on the life of Prophet Muhammad as blasphemy. Rushdie’s book had already been banned and burned in India, Pakistan and elsewhere before Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, in 1989 calling for Rushdie’s death.
Khomeini died that same year, but the fatwa remains in effect. Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Khamenei, has never issued his own fatwa withdrawing the edict, although Iran has not focused on the author in recent years.
Investigators worked to determine if the attacker, who was born a decade after The Satanic Verses was released, acted alone.
Prosecutor Schmidt referred to the fatwa as a possible motive for arguing against bail.
“Even if this court were to set bail at $1 million, we run the risk of bail being honored,” Schmidt said.
“I don’t care about his resources. We understand that the agenda carried out yesterday was embraced and sanctioned by larger groups and organizations well beyond the jurisdictional boundaries of Chautauqua County,” the prosecutor said.
Barone, the public defender, said after the hearing that Matar has been in open communication with him and that he will spend the coming weeks learning more about his client, including whether he has any mental health or addiction problems.
Matar is from Fairview, New Jersey. Rosaria Calabrese, manager of the State of Fitness Boxing Club, a small, close-knit gym in nearby North Bergen, said Matar joined on April 11 and attended about 27 group sessions for beginners looking to improve their fitness before she wrote an email a few days ago to say that he wanted to cancel his membership because “he wouldn’t be coming back for a while”.
The gym’s owner, Desmond Boyle, said he saw “nothing violent” about Matar and described him as polite and calm but someone who always looked “tremendously sad”. He said Matar resisted attempts by him and others to welcome and engage him.
“He had that look every time he walked in. It looked like the worst day of his life,” Boyle said.
Matar was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, the village’s mayor, Ali Tehfe, told The Associated Press.
Flags of the Iran-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah and portraits of leader Hassan Nasrallah, Khamenei, Khomeini and slain Iranian general Qassem Soleimani can be seen all over the village.
Journalists visiting Yaroun on Saturday were told to leave the country. Hezbollah spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.
Iran’s theocratic government and its state-run media gave no motive for the attack. In Tehran, some Iranians interviewed by AP praised the attack on an author they believe sullied the Islamic faith, while others feared it would further isolate their country.
An AP reporter saw the attacker stab or punch Rushdie about 10 or 15 times. dr Martin Haskell, a doctor who rushed to those who rushed to the rescue, described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but curable.”
Event host Henry Reese, 73, suffered a facial injury and was treated and discharged from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie had planned to speak about the United States as a haven for exiled writers and other artists.
A state police officer and a county sheriff’s deputy were assigned to hear Rushdie’s presentation, and state police said the officer made the arrest. But afterward, some long-time visitors to the center questioned why there weren’t tighter security measures, given the threats against Rushdie and a more than $3 million bounty on his head.
News of the stabbing has prompted renewed interest in The Satanic Verses, which topped the bestseller lists after the fatwa was published in 1989. As of Saturday afternoon, the novel was number 13 on Amazon.com.
The book’s publication in 1988 sparked often violent protests in the Muslim world against Rushdie, who was born into a Muslim family and has long identified as an infidel and once described himself as “an uncompromising atheist”.
At least 45 people have been killed in riots, including 12 in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the Norwegian publisher of the book was shot three times and survived.
The death threats and bounty prompted Rushdie to go into hiding under a UK government protection scheme that included a 24-hour armed guard. After nine years of seclusion, Rushdie cautiously resumed more public appearances, and overall maintained his outspoken criticism of religious extremism.
In 2012, he published a memoir on the fatwa entitled “Joseph Anton,” the pseudonym Rushdie used in hiding.
He said during a New York lecture that year that terrorism really is the art of fear: “The only way to defeat it is to choose not to be afraid.”