Man accused of stabbing writer Salman Rushdie pleads not guilty

Man Accused Of Stabbing Writer Salman Rushdie Pleads Not Guilty

MAYVILLE, N.Y. — The man accused of stabbing writer Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses,” pleaded not guilty Saturday to attempted murder and assault charges.

Hadi Matar’s lawyer, 24, made the statement in court on behalf of his client during a brief arraignment hearing. Matar appeared wearing black and white inmate clothing and a white mask. He had his hands cuffed in front of him.

Matar is accused of attacking Rushdie on Friday when he was introducing the writer at a conference at the Chautauqua Institute.

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Rushdie remained hospitalized after suffering serious injuries in a knife attack the day before, as praise for him in the West and for his assailant in Iran is mounting.

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.

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.”

Salman Rushdie (above), 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. (EFE Agency)

Matar was arrested after the attack at the Chautauqua Institute, an educational and retirement center where Rushdie was preparing to speak.

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.

“The Satanic Verses” brought Rushdie death threats after its publication in 1988. It was considered blasphemous by many Muslims who saw a character as an insult to the Prophet Muhammad. The novel was banned in Iran, where Supreme Leader Ayatollah Rujollah Khomeinini issued a fatwa in 1989 ordering Rushdie’s death.

The motive for the attack was unclear, state police Maj. Eugene Staniszewski said. Matar’s attorney declined to comment on behalf of his client, who was born a decade after the book’s publication.

Investigators were trying to determine if the attacker acted alone.

Iran’s theocratic government and state media offered no explanation for the attack. In Tehran, some Iranians interviewed by the AP praised the attack on a perpetrator they say sullied the Islamic faith, while others feared it would further isolate the country.

An Associated Press reporter saw a man confront Rushdie onstage as he was being introduced. He started beating or stabbing him about 10 or 15 times. The 75-year-old perpetrator was knocked down or fell to the ground and the man was taken into custody.

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, who 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.

Police said a state trooper was assigned to Rushdie’s conference and that he was the one who made the arrest. But after the attack, some veteran visitors to the center questioned why there wasn’t tighter security for the event, given decades of threats against Rushdie and a bounty on his head from the Muslim world, offering more than $3 million to whoever kills him.

Matar, like other visitors, had obtained a pass to enter the Chautauqua Institution, said Michael Hill, the institution’s president.

Matar’s attorney, Nathaniel Barone, said he was still collecting information and declined to comment. The attacker’s house was cordoned off by the authorities.

Rabbi Charles Savenor was among about 2,500 people in the audience. Amid gasps, the spectators were ushered out of the open-air amphitheater.

“This guy ran up on the platform and started hitting Mr Rushdie. At first you think, ‘What’s going on?’ Then it became very clear within seconds that he was being hit,” Savenor said. He added that the attack lasted about 20 seconds.

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