Hadi Matar appears in court this Thursday in Mayville, New York.LINDSAY DEDARIO (Portal)
Hadi Matar, the young Shia of Lebanese descent who stabbed writer Salman Rushdie to death last Friday during a conference in western New York, pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and second-degree assault on Thursday. Matar, 24, who was born in California to Lebanese parents and lives in New Jersey, remains in detention without bail.
The young man, a supporter of Iran’s major ayatollahs, tried to carry out the fatwa (religious edict) that sentenced Rushdie to death in February 1989 for his novel The Satanic Verses, which Tehran considered blasphemous. Rushdie was about to give a lecture at a cultural venue in Chaupauqua, near the city of Buffalo, when Matar, who had paid $200 to enter, came onstage and lunged at the 75-year-old author, inflicting a dozen stitches on him. The British writer of Indian descent, injured in the neck and stomach, was evacuated to a nearby hospital in Pennsylvania, where he remains hospitalized with serious injuries to an eye and liver, though his recovery is slow.
Matar has appeared before a grand jury at the Chautauqua County Courthouse on both counts, with the first count carrying a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. He has been in prison since his arrest on the conference stage, and his next appearance is scheduled for September 22nd. The judge barred Matar from addressing Rushdie and granted a request by his defense attorney for an injunction barring the parties from discussing the case in the media.
The attack on Rushdie has sparked a wave of global outrage and countless acts of solidarity with the writer and often precarious freedom of expression. This Friday, a group of well-known writers will hold a reading at the New York Public Library’s headquarters in honor of Rushdie, who moved to the Big Apple in 2000 after nearly a decade living in hiding and shelter in the United Kingdom and was a fixture at the city’s cultural gatherings.
In an interview published Wednesday by the New York Post, Matar said he respected the memory and example of the great Ayatollah Ruholá Khomeini, the architect of the 1979 Islamic revolution and also the author of the fatwa against Rushdie, but he avoided speaking whether his edict had inspired the attack. Matar also said he only read a few pages of The Satanic Verses and watched the author’s YouTube videos. “I don’t like him very much,” Matar said of the writer, according to the Post. “He is someone who has attacked Islam, its faith, its belief system,” he added. Police believe he acted alone. The image of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s current spiritual leader, appears in the photo of his email, according to the New York Times. Iran also accused the attacker of insulting the 1.5 billion Muslims, but denied any connection to the attack or its perpetrator.
According to investigators, Matar traveled to the Chautauqua Institution, an idyllic cultural retreat near Lake Erie, where he purchased the conference pass. Witnesses to the attack said there were no apparent security checks at the entrance to the amphitheater, where about 2,500 people gathered to listen to the threatened author, a free speech advocate who had eased security in recent years despite ongoing threats: the fatwa was lifted never revoke. At its head, the Iranian authorities have set a hefty price: a reward for the executor of the fatwa, which since 1989 has grown to over $3 million with contributions from various parts of the regime.
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