Salman Rushdie: Man accused of attempted murder enters not guilty plea

·3-min read
Salman Rushdie: Man accused of attempted murder enters not guilty plea

The suspect in the attack on Sir Salman Rushdie has entered a not guilty plea on charges of attempted murder and assault.

Following the attack, police detained Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey.

He has been charged with attempted murder in the second degree, and assault in the second degree, Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt said in a statement on Saturday.

He entered a plea in a New York court, AP reports.

An attorney for Matar entered the plea on his behalf during an arraignment hearing. Matar appeared in court wearing a black and white jumpsuit and a white face mask. His hands were cuffed in front of him.

A judge ordered him to be held without bail after district attorney Jason Schmidt told her Matar took steps to purposely put himself in a position to harm Sir Salman, getting an advance pass to the event where the author was speaking and arriving a day early with a fake ID.

“This was a targeted, unprovoked, pre-planned attack on Mr Rushdie,” Mr Schmidt said.

Public defender Nathaniel Barone said the authorities had taken too long to get Matar in front of a judge, while leaving him “hooked up to a bench at the state police barracks”.

“He has that constitutional right of presumed innocence,” Mr Barone added.

Hadi Matar in court (AP)
Hadi Matar in court (AP)

Sir Salman, 75, suffered damage to his liver, severed nerves in an arm and an eye, and was on a ventilator and unable to speak, his agent Andrew Wylie said Friday evening.

“The news is not good. Salman will likely lose one eye, the nerves in his arm were severed, and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”

On Saturday European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned the attack and wished Sir Salman a speedy recovery.

“International rejection of such criminal actions, which violate fundamental rights and freedoms, is the only path towards a better and more peaceful world,” he wrote in a tweet.

Hadi Matar with his lawyer Nathaniel Barone (AP)
Hadi Matar with his lawyer Nathaniel Barone (AP)

Following the attack, both Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer paid tribute to Sir Salman.

The prime minister said: “Appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend. Right now my thoughts are with his loved ones. We are all hoping he is okay.

Sir Keir said: “Salman Rushdie has long embodied the struggle for liberty and freedom against those who seek to destroy them.

“This cowardly attack on him yesterday is an attack on those values. The whole Labour Party is praying for his full recovery.”

Sir Salman, whose novel The Satanic Verses led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was about to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in New York state, when he was attacked.

Major Eugene Staniszweski of New York state police said late on Friday: “Guest speaker Salman Rushdie, aged 75, and Ralph Henry Reese, age 73, had just arrived on stage at the institution.

“Shortly thereafter, the suspect jumped on to the stage and attacked Mr Rushdie, stabbing him at least once in the neck and at least once in the abdomen.

“Several members of the staff at the institution and audience members rushed the suspect and took him to the ground, and shortly thereafter, a trooper who was at the institution took the suspect into custody with the assistance of a Chautauqua county sheriff’s deputy.

“Mr Rushdie was provided medical treatment by a doctor who was in the audience until EMS arrived on scene.”

Sir Salman began his writing career in the early 1970s with two unsuccessful books before Midnight’s Children, about the birth of India, which won the Booker Prize in 1981.

It went on to bring him worldwide fame and was named “best of the Bookers” on the literary award’s 25th anniversary.

The author lived in hiding for many years in London under a British Government protection programme after the fatwa, calling for his execution over The Satanic Verses, was issued.