Mayville, New York, USA
The man accused of stabbing writer Salman Rushdie pleaded not guilty Saturday to assault and attempted murder charges in what a prosecutor called a “planned” crime, while the renowned author of “The Satanic Verses” remains hospitalized with serious injuries.
Hadi Matar’s attorney, 24, made the statement in court on behalf of his client during a brief arraignment hearing in western New York. Matar appeared wearing black and white inmate clothing and a white mask. He had his hands cuffed in front of him.
A judge ordered Matar held without bail after District Attorney Jason Schmidt told him the defendant deliberately took steps to put himself in a position to harm Rushdie, getting an early pass to the event where Rushdie was preparing to speak. and arriving a day early with a fake ID.
“This was a pre-planned, unprovoked, targeted attack on Mr. Rushdie,” Schmidt said.
Public defender Nathaniel Barone complained that authorities had taken too long to bring Matar before a judge while leaving him “tied to a bench at state police headquarters.”
“You have that constitutional right to be presumed innocent,” Barone added.
Matar is accused of attacking Rushdie on Friday as the writer was speaking at a conference at the Chautauqua Institute, a nonprofit educational and retirement center.
Rushdie, 75, suffered injuries to his liver, nerves in his arm and eye, and was on a ventilator, his agent Andrew Wylie said Friday night. He added that he is likely to lose the injured eye.
The attack was met with shock and outrage from much of the world, along with tributes and praise for the award-winning author who has faced death threats for more than 30 years for “The Satanic Verses.”
Writers, activists and government officials condemned the attack and praised Rushdie for the courage he has shown in defending free speech despite the dangers. Author Ian McEwan, a longtime friend, said he is “an admirable advocate for persecuted authors and journalists around the world.”
Actor and writer Kal Penn said he is a role model “for a whole generation of artists, especially many of us from the South Asian diaspora, towards whom he has shown 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 vision of humanity, with his unrivaled sense of history, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced – represents essential and universal ideals,” the statement read. “TRUE. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the basic elements of any free and open society.”
A native of India who has since lived in Britain and the United States, Rushdie is known for his surreal and satirical prose style, beginning with his 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel “Midnight’s Children,” in which he criticizes harshly to the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
“The Satanic Verses” brought Rushdie death threats after its publication in 1988. Many Muslims considered a dream sequence based on the life of the Prophet Mohammed blasphemous, among other objections. The novel was banned in Iran, where Supreme Leader Ayatollah Rujollah Khomeinini issued a fatwa in 1989 ordering Rushdie’s death.
Investigators were trying to determine if the attacker, born a decade after the publication of “The Satanic Verses,” acted alone.
District Attorney Schmidt cited the fatwa as a potential reason to argue against bail.
“Even if this court were to set bail at $1 million, we risk bail being served,” Schmidt said.
“Your resources don’t matter to me. We understand that the agenda that was carried out yesterday is something that was adopted and sanctioned by larger groups and organizations beyond the jurisdictional limits of Chautauqua County, ”said the prosecutor.
Barone, the public defender, said after the hearing that Matar has been communicating openly with him and will spend the next few weeks trying to learn about his client, including whether he has psychological or addiction problems.
Matar, of Fairview, New Jersey, was born in the United States to Lebanese parents who immigrated from Yaroun, a border village in southern Lebanon, Mayor Ali Tehfe told The Associated Press.
An AP reporter saw a man confront Rushdie onstage as he was being introduced. He started beating or stabbing him about 10 or 15 times. The perpetrator was knocked down or fell to the ground and the man was arrested.
Dr Martin Haskell, a doctor who was among those present who rushed to help, described Rushdie’s injuries as “serious but recoverable”.
The event’s moderator, Henry Reese, 73, co-founder of an organization that provides residencies for writers facing persecution, was also attacked. Reese suffered a facial injury, was treated and released from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie had planned to talk about the United States as a refuge for writers and other artists in exile.