The suspect in the attack on Salman Rushdie pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault in a New York courtroom on Thursday.
Hadi Matar, 24, is accused of stabbing Rushdie, the famous author of Midnight’s Children, during a Friday conference in Chautauqua.
Arrested immediately after the incident, the suspect had already pleaded not guilty at a procedural hearing on Saturday.
Masked, handcuffed and dressed in a black and white striped prison uniform, Matar spoke through his lawyer on Thursday.
He faces up to 25 years in prison for attempted murder and up to seven years for assault. The judge chose to keep him in detention without the possibility of bail. At the previous hearing, prosecutors called the attack premeditated.
His lawyer Nathaniel Barone stressed Thursday that his client was entitled to a “fair trial” and respect for the “presumption of innocence”.
Kill “surprised” Rushdie survived
Asked Wednesday by the New York Post, which 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 in the neck and abdomen and evacuated by helicopter to a hospital, was briefly put on a ventilator before his condition improved.
Matar did not specify 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 by the guide Iranian Supreme.
He has just explained to the New York Post that he had “esteem for the ayatollah”, who is “a remarkable person”.
As for Rushdie, Matar said he was not “a good man”. “I don’t like this person,” I said.
“He is someone who attacked Islam,” he added. Watching videos of the author on YouTube, I found him “hypocritical” but admitted that he had only read two pages of the book which would have been the reason for the fatwa.
Hadi Matar had returned “changed” and more religious from a trip to Lebanon in 2018 – his family’s country of origin – his mother told the Daily Mail on Monday.
Police protection and attacks on translators
Rushdie, born in 1947 in India into a family of non-practicing Muslim intellectuals, provoked the anger of part of the Muslim world with the publication in 1988 of The Satanic Verses, a novel considered by the most rigorous as blasphemous against the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad.
Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for Rushdie’s murder, forcing him to live under police protection for years.
The fatwa is a religious ruling primarily reserved as the final word in interpretations of the Holy Scriptures or Islamic laws derived therefrom. However, in Iran the ruling has sometimes been used to convict individuals such as Rushdie.
Khomeini’s fatwa against the writer was never lifted, and many of Rushdie’s translators were attacked.
After three days of silence, Iran on Monday denied any involvement in the attack, blaming Rushdie himself.
“In this attack, only Salman Rushdie and his supporters deserve blame and even condemnation,” said Nasser Kanani, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry.
Rushdie, who had settled in New York for twenty years, became an American citizen in 2016.
Despite the threat, he had appeared with increasing frequency in public, often without a visible escort, while continuing to champion satire and irreverence in his books.
In an interview with the German magazine Stern a few days before Friday’s attack, he said he was “optimistic” and confided: “Since I have been living in the United States, I no longer have any problems (…) My life is still normal.”
Matar is due to appear in court again on September 7.