14 Aug 2022, 08:07

Rushdie suspected attacker charged with attempted murder

ERIE, United States, Aug 14, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - A New York court charged the man suspected of stabbing Salman Rushdie at a literary event with attempted murder on Saturday for the attack on the writer, who remains hospitalized in serious condition.

The British author was stabbed approximately 10 times, prosecutors said during an arraignment of the New Jersey man, according to the New York Times.

The assault on Rushdie, author of "The Satanic Verses" and "Midnight's Children", triggered international outrage but drew applause from Islamist hardliners in Iran and Pakistan.

Rushdie, who lived in hiding for years after Iran's first supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered his killing, underwent emergency surgery and was placed on a ventilator in a Pennsylvania hospital following Friday's assault.

He will likely lose an eye, according to his agent, Andrew Wylie, who said Saturday the author had started to talk again, according to the Times.

President Joe Biden on Saturday called it a "vicious" attack and offered prayers for Rushdie's recovery.

"Salman Rushdie -- with his insight into humanity, with his unmatched sense for story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced -- stands for essential, universal ideals. Truth. Courage. Resilience," Biden said in a statement.

The 24-year-old alleged assailant, Hadi Matar, rushed onstage on Friday where Rushdie was about to deliver a lecture and stabbed him in multiple places, including the face, neck and abdomen.

Beyond Rushdie's eye injury, the nerves in one of his arms were severed and his liver was damaged, according to his agent.

Matar is being held without bail and has been formally charged with second-degree attempted murder and assault with a weapon, according to the Times.

Police provided no information on his background or what might have motivated him.

He appeared in a New York court on Saturday, and pleaded not guilty during his arraignment.

- Effective death sentence -

The 75-year-old novelist had been living under an effective death sentence since 1989 when Iran's then-supreme leader Khomeini issued a religious decree, or fatwa, ordering Muslims to kill the writer.

The fatwa followed the publication of the novel "The Satanic Verses," which sparked fury among some Muslims who said it was blasphemous for its portrayal of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.

In a recent interview with Germany's Stern magazine, Rushdie spoke of how, after so many years living with death threats, his life was "getting back to normal."

"For whatever it was, eight or nine years, it was quite serious," he told a Stern correspondent in New York.

"But ever since I've been living in America, since the year 2000, really there hasn't been a problem in all that time."

Rushdie moved to New York in the early 2000s and became a US citizen in 2016. Despite the continued threat to his life, he was increasingly seen in public -- often without noticeable security.

Security was not particularly tight at Friday's event at the Chautauqua Institution, which hosts arts programs in a tranquil lakeside community near Buffalo.

Witnesses said Rushdie was seated onstage and preparing to speak when Matar sprang up from the audience and managed to stab him before being wrestled to the ground by staff and other spectators.

Matar's family appears to come from the village of Yaroun in southern Lebanon, though he was born in the United States, according to a Lebanese official.

An AFP reporter who visited the village Saturday was told that Matar's parents were divorced and his father -- a shepherd -- still lived there.

Journalists who approached his father's home were turned away.

Matar was "born and raised in the US," the head of the local municipality, Ali Qassem Tahfa, told AFP.

- Outrage -

"The Satanic Verses" and its author remain deeply inflammatory in Iran. When asked by AFP on Saturday, nobody in Tehran's main book market dared to openly condemn the stabbing.

"I was very happy to hear the news," said Mehrab Bigdeli, a man in his 50s studying to become a Muslim cleric.

The message was similar in Iran's conservative media, with one state-owned paper saying the "neck of the devil" had been "cut by a razor."

In Pakistan, a spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan -- a party that has staged violent protests against what it deems to be anti-Muslim blasphemy -- said Rushdie "deserved to be killed."

Elsewhere there was widespread shock and outrage.

British leader Boris Johnson said he was "appalled," while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the attack "reprehensible" and "cowardly."

Messages also flooded in from the literary world, with Joyce Carol Oates calling it "terrible, tragic news" and Rushdie's close friend Ian McEwan calling him an "inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists across the world."

Rushdie was propelled into the spotlight with his second novel, "Midnight's Children," in 1981, which won international praise for its portrayal of post-independence India.

But "The Satanic Verses", published in 1988, transformed his life. The resulting fatwa forced him into nearly a decade in hiding, moving houses repeatedly and being unable to tell even his children where he lived.


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