Salman Rushdie still in hospital as attack suspect pleads not guilty

Aug 13 (Reuters) – Acclaimed author Salman Rushdie remained hospitalized with serious injuries on Saturday, a day after being repeatedly stabbed during a public appearance in New York state as police tried to determine the motive behind an attack that was internationally condemned.

The accused attacker, 24-year-old Hadi Matar of Fairview, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty in a court hearing on Saturday to charges of attempted murder and assault, his court-appointed attorney Nathaniel Barone told Reuters.

Rushdie, 75, was due to give a talk on artistic freedom at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York, when police said Matar stormed onto the stage and stabbed the Indian-born writer, who has been living with a bounty on his bounty since his 1988 novel. head is alive. Satanic Verses” prompted Iran to urge Muslims to kill him.

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After hours of surgery, Rushdie was on a ventilator and unable to speak as of Friday night, according to his agent, Andrew Wylie. The novelist was likely to lose an eye and had nerve damage in his arm and wounds to his liver, Wylie said in an email.

Wylie did not respond Saturday to messages requesting updates on Rushdie’s condition, although the New York Times reported that Rushdie had begun talking, citing Wylie.

The stabbing was condemned by writers and politicians around the world as an attack on freedom of expression. In a statement on Saturday, President Joe Biden praised the “universal ideals” that Rushdie and his work embody.

“Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear,” Biden said. “These are the building blocks of any free and open society.”

Neither local nor federal authorities released additional details about the investigation on Saturday. Police said Friday they had not found a motive for the attack.

An initial law enforcement search of Matar’s social media accounts showed he sympathized with Shia extremism and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), although no definitive links had been found, according to NBC New York.

The IRGC is a powerful faction that controls a business empire as well as elite armed and intelligence agencies that Washington accuses of conducting a global extremist campaign.

Asked for comment on the case, Matar’s attorney Barone said: “We’re still in the early stages and, frankly, in cases like this, I think it’s important to remember that people have to have an open mind to go to everything. They can’t just assume something happened for what they think happened.”

A first hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday, he said.

Born in California, Matar recently moved to New Jersey, the NBC New York report said, adding that he was carrying a fake driver’s license. He was arrested on the spot by a state trooper after being wrestled to the ground by onlookers.

Witnesses said he was not speaking when he attacked the author. Rushdie was stabbed 10 times, prosecutors said during Matar’s arraignment, according to the Times.

The attack was premeditated; Prosecutors said in court that Matar traveled by bus to Chautauqua Institution, an educational retreat about 12 miles from the shores of Lake Erie, and bought a pass that allowed him to attend Rushdie’s speech, the Times reported. Those in attendance said there were no clear security checks.

The provincial prosecutor’s office did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

FBI investigators went to Matar’s last-mentioned address Friday night, in Fairview, a Bergen County neighborhood across the Hudson River from Manhattan, NBC New York reported.

There was no police presence in the house on Saturday, a two-storey stone house in a largely Spanish-speaking neighborhood. A woman who entered the house refused to speak to reporters gathered outside.

BOUNTY ON HIS HEAD

Rushdie, who was born to a Muslim Kashmiri family in Bombay, now Mumbai, before moving to Britain, has long faced death threats for “The Satanic Verses,” which are considered blasphemous passages by some Muslims. The book was banned in many countries with large Muslim populations.

In 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s Supreme Leader, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling on Muslims to kill the author and anyone involved in the book’s publication for blasphemy. Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of the novel, was stabbed to death in 1991 in a case that remains unsolved.

There has been no official government response in Iran to the attack on Rushdie, but several hardline Iranian newspapers have praised his attacker. read more

Iranian organizations, some with ties to the government, have raised a multimillion-dollar bounty for Rushdie’s murder. Khomeini’s successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in 2019 that the fatwa was “irrevocable”.

Ali Tehfe, mayor of Yaroun in southern Lebanon, said Matar was the son of a man from the city. The suspect’s parents emigrated to the United States and he was born and raised there, the mayor said.

When asked whether Matar or his parents had any ties to or support for the Iranian-backed armed group Hezbollah in Lebanon, Tehfe said he had “no information at all” about their political views.

A Hezbollah official told Reuters on Saturday that the group had no additional information about the attack on Rushdie. read more

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Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Additional coverage by Randi Love in Fairview, New Jersey, Rami Ayyub and Ted Hesson in Washington and Timour Azhari in Beirut; Writing by Nathan Layne and Joseph Axe; Editing by Alexander Smith and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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