Salman Rushdie attack suspect indicted, to appear in court today

Published August 18, 2022
<p>Hadi Matar, who pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault of acclaimed author Salman Rushdie, appears in booking photographs at Chautauqua County Jail in Mayville, New York, US, August 12. — Reuters</p>

Hadi Matar, who pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault of acclaimed author Salman Rushdie, appears in booking photographs at Chautauqua County Jail in Mayville, New York, US, August 12. — Reuters

A man suspected of stabbing novelist Salman Rushdie last week in western New York will be arraigned on a grand jury indictment on Thursday during a court hearing, his defence attorney said.

Hadi Matar, 24, is accused of wounding Rushdie, 75, on Friday just before the “The Satanic Verses” author was to deliver a lecture on stage at an educational retreat near Lake Erie.

The suspect is scheduled to appear in court at 1pm local time, the office of Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt said in an email.

Matar’s defence attorney Nathaniel Barone told Reuters that a grand jury has indicted his client on one count of second-degree attempted murder and one count of assault in the second degree.

Schmidt’s office said that a grand jury returned an indictment on Thursday morning, but did not provide additional details.

The suspect appeared in a county court on Saturday and pleaded not guilty to one count of second-degree attempted murder and an additional count of assault in the second degree after a criminal complaint filed by prosecutors.

He was remanded without bail.

The attack comes 33 years after Iran’s then-supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to assassinate Rushdie the year after “The Satanic Verses” was published.

The Indian-born writer has since lived with a bounty on his head over the book.

In 1998, Iran’s pro-reform government of President Mohammad Khatami distanced itself from the fatwa, saying the threat against Rushdie — who had lived in hiding for nine years — was over. But in 2019, Twitter suspended Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s account over a tweet that said the fatwa against Rushdie was “irrevocable”.

Political leaders, including those in the United States and Britain, have called last week’s attack an assault on free speech.

In an interview published by the New York Post on Wednesday, Matar said he respected Khomeini but would not say if he was inspired by the fatwa. He said he had “read a couple of pages” of “The Satanic Verses” and watched YouTube videos of the author.

“I don’t like him very much,” Matar said of Rushdie, as reported in the Post. “He’s someone who attacked Islam, he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.”

Iran’s foreign ministry on Monday said that Tehran should not be accused of being involved in the attack. Matar is believed to have acted alone and the motive was not known, police have said.

Barone said he was left in the dark about the Post interview and had not authorised any conversation with outside sources.

Matar, who is of Lebanese descent, is a Shia Muslim American who was born in California.

Prosecutors say he took a bus to Chautauqua Institution, a retreat about 19 kilometres from Lake Erie, where he bought a pass to Rushdie’s lecture, according to the New York Times.

Witnesses said there were no obvious security checks at the lecture venue and that Matar did not speak as he attacked the author. He was arrested at the scene by a state trooper after being wrestled to the ground by audience members.

Rushdie sustained severe injuries in the attack, including nerve damage in his arm, wounds to his liver, and the likely loss of an eye, his agent said.

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