Salman Rushdie attack suspect pleads not guilty

The suspect in the attack on Salman Rushdie pleaded not guilty on Thursday to attempted murder and assault in a court in Mayville, New York. Hadi Matar, 24, is accused of stabbing Salman Rushdie, the author of the satanic verses, at a conference Friday in the nearby town of Chautauqua. Arrested immediately after the fact, the suspect had already pleaded not guilty during a procedural hearing on Saturday.

Head lowered, masked, handcuffed and dressed in a prisoner’s outfit with black and white stripes, Hadi Matar spoke Thursday through the voice of his lawyer. The judge chose to keep the suspect in custody, without bail. Questioned on Wednesday by the New York Post, who claims to have contacted him in prison, Hadi Matar said he was “surprised” that Salman Rushdie survived the attack. The 75-year-old British author, stabbed a dozen times and evacuated by helicopter to a hospital, was briefly placed on a ventilator before his condition improved.

Not inspired by the fatwa

Hadi Matar, 24, did not say whether he was inspired by the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 from Iran calling for the death of the writer, his book The Satanic Verses having been deemed blasphemous. He had just explained to the New York Post to have “esteem for the ayatollah”, someone “remarkable”. “I don’t like this person. I don’t think he’s a good man,” the suspect told the tabloid about the intellectual. “He is someone who attacked Islam,” he added. Watching videos of the author on YouTube, he found him “hypocritical”, he continued. Hadi Matar had returned “changed” and more religious from a 2018 trip to Lebanon, his family’s country of origin, his mother told the Daily Mail website on Monday.

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Salman Rushdie, born in 1947 in India into a family of non-practicing Muslim intellectuals, provoked anger in part of the Muslim world with the publication in 1988 of satanic verses, a novel judged by the most rigorous as blasphemous with regard to the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad. Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie, who had lived for years under police protection.

Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against the writer has never been lifted and many of his translators have come under attack. After three days of silence, Iran on Monday denied any involvement in the attack, blaming Salman Rushdie himself. “In this attack, only Salman Rushdie and his supporters deserve to be blamed and even condemned”, had judged Nasser Kanani, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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