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Salman Rushdie stabbing – man enters not guilty plea

Hadi Matar arrives in court (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
Hadi Matar arrives in court (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

The man accused of stabbing Sir Salman Rushdie pleaded not guilty on Saturday to charges of attempted murder and assault, in what a prosecutor called a “pre-planned” crime, as the renowned author of The Satanic Verses remained in hospital with serious injuries.

A lawyer for Hadi Matar entered the plea on his behalf during a formal hearing at a court in western New York.

Matar appeared in court wearing a black and white jumpsuit and a white face mask, with his hands 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.

Salman Rushdie Assault
Hadi Matar listens in court (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

“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.

Sir Salman suffered serious injuries in the attack and remains in hospital.

The 75-year-old Indian-born British author is on a ventilator and may lose an eye and sustained nerve damage to his arm and damage to his liver in the attack, his agent has said.

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, 65 miles from Buffalo in New York state, when he was attacked.

He was stabbed at least once in the neck and once in the abdomen, according to police, before he was taken to hospital.

According to the NYT, Sir Salman’s agent Andrew Wylie said he is on a ventilator and unable to speak.

Mr Wylie added the news was “not good” and the author will “likely lose one eye”.

He said the nerves in Sir Salman’s arm were severed in the attack and his liver was “stabbed and damaged”.

Major Eugene Staniszweski of New York state police said late on Friday: “Earlier today at approximately 10.47am, 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.”

Salman Rushdie Assault
Sir Salman Rushdie was attacked during a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution (Joshua Goodman/AP)

Photos from the Associated Press (AP) news agency showed Sir Salman lying on his back with his legs in the air and a first responder crouched over him.

The Satanic Verses has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims view it as blasphemous, and its publication prompted Iran’s then-leader Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa calling for his death.

Mr Reese, from the City of Asylum organisation, a residency programme for writers living in exile under threat of persecution, suffered a minor head injury.

They were due to discuss the role of the US as an asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression.

A video posted to Twitter by an AP reporter in the audience showed a man dressed in black being led away from the stage.

New York governor Kathy Hochul told a press conference that a state police officer saved Sir Salman’s life.

She added: “Here is an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power, someone who’s been out there unafraid, despite the threats that have followed him his entire adult life.”

The Chautauqua Institution, which was hosting the lecture, tweeted about the incident, writing: “We ask for your prayers for Salman Rushdie and Henry Reese, and patience as we fully focus on co-ordinating with police officials following a tragic incident at the amphitheatre today.”

Its president Michael Hill said: “What we experienced at Chautauqua today is an incident unlike anything in our nearly 150-year history.

“We were founded to bring people together in community to learn and in doing so, to create solutions through action, to develop empathy and to take on intractable problems.

Sir Salman is taken on a stretcher to a helicopter for transport to a hospital
Sir Salman is taken on a stretcher to a helicopter for transport to hospital (AP)

“Today now we’re called to take on fear and the worst of all human traits – hate.”

Jeremy Genovese, 68, from Beachwood, Ohio, a retired academic from Cleveland state university, told the PA news agency he arrived at the amphitheatre as it was being evacuated and people were “streaming out”.

He said: “People were in shock, many people in tears. Chautauqua has always prided itself as a place where people can engage in civil dialogue.

“The amphitheatre is a large outdoor venue where people have given lectures since the late 1800s. You need a pass to access the grounds but it is not too difficult to get in.”

Protests in the UK in 1989
Protests in the UK about the publication of the novel The Satanic Verses in 1989 (PA)

Sir Salman’s publisher Penguin Random House said they are “deeply shocked and appalled” by the incident.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend”.

He added: “Right now my thoughts are with his loved ones. We are all hoping he is okay.”

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer 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.”

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said: “Today, the country and the world witnessed a reprehensible attack against the writer Salman Rushdie. This act of violence is appalling.

“All of us in the Biden-Harris administration are praying for his speedy recovery. We are thankful to good citizens and first responders for helping Mr Rushdie so quickly after the attack and to law enforcement for its swift and effective work, which is ongoing.”

Sir Salman was previously president of PEN America, which celebrates free expression and speech, and chief executive Suzanne Nossel condemned the attack.

She tweeted: “PEN America is reeling from shock and horror at word of a brutal, premeditated attack on our former president and stalwart ally, Salman Rushdie.”

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.

Blood stains mark a screen on the stage
Blood stains mark a screen on the stage (Joshua Goodman/AP)

The author lived in hiding for many years in London under a British government protection programme after the fatwa.

In 1998, the Iranian government withdrew its support for the death sentence and Sir Salman gradually returned to public life, even appearing as himself in the 2001 film Bridget Jones’s Diary.

The Index on Censorship, an organisation promoting free expression, said money was raised to boost the reward for Sir Salman’s killing as recently as 2016, underscoring that the fatwa still stands.

He was knighted in 2008 and earlier this year was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours.