Hadi Matar: Salman Rushdie's accused attacker pleads not guilty

Suspect was charged with second-degree murder and assault for attacking Satanic Verses author

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A man accused of stabbing author Salman Rushdie last week during a lecture event in western New York state pleaded not guilty on Thursday to second-degree attempted murder and assault charges.

Hadi Matar, of Fairview, New Jersey, was arrested on August 12 after he rushed the stage at the Chautauqua Institution, stabbing Rushdie several times before the Satanic Verses author was due to speak on freedom of expression and protection for writers in exile.

Mr Matar was arraigned during a hearing at a court in Chautauqua County on a grand jury indictment earlier in the day. He was ordered to be held without bail.

His next court appearance was scheduled for September 22.

Rushdie is receiving treatment for severe wounds at a hospital in Pennsylvania. His agent said he has a damaged liver and severed nerves in his arm, and that he could lose an eye.

The author's 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, was condemned as blasphemous by many Muslims upon its publication. Iran's former supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie's death a year after it was published.

Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt called the attack “pre-planned”. Prosecutors alleged Mr Matar travelled to Chautauqua Institution, an education centre and summer resort, where he bought a pass to Rushdie's lecture.

Mr Matar told the New York Post this week that he admires Khomeini, but would not say if his attack on Rushdie was inspired by the fatwa. The Post reported that he had denied being in contact with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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

President Joe Biden and other political leaders condemned the attack as an assault to free speech.

The Iranian government has denied involvement in the attack and US police said it was believed Mr Matar had acted alone.

Henry Reese, cofounder of Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum, was on stage with Rushdie during the event and was struck in the head.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Updated: August 18, 2022, 10:51 PM