Aug 13 (Reuters) – Acclaimed author Salman Rushdie was hospitalized with serious injuries on Saturday, a day after he was stabbed multiple times during a public appearance in New York state, while police tried to determine the motive behind the attack that drew international condemnation.
The accused attacker, Hadi Mather, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges when he appeared in court on Saturday, his court-appointed attorney, Nathaniel Baron, told Reuters.
Rushdie, 75, was scheduled to deliver a lecture on artistic freedom at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York. Then, Matter rushed to the stage and stabbed the Indian-origin author, whose 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” had inspired Iranian Muslims to kill him.
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Following several hours of surgery, Rushdie remained on a ventilator and was unable to speak until Friday evening, according to his agent, Andrew Wylie. The novelist lost an eye and had nerve damage in his arm and injuries to his liver, Wiley said in an email.
Wylie did not respond to messages seeking an update on Rushdie’s condition on Saturday, although Rushdie has begun talking, the New York Times reported, citing Wylie.
The stabbing was condemned by writers and politicians around the world as an attack on freedom of expression. In a statement on Saturday, President Joe Biden praised Rushdie and the “universal ideals” his work embodies.
“Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear,” Biden said. “These are the building blocks of any free and open society.”
Neither local nor federal officials provided additional details on Saturday’s hearing. Police said on Friday that no motive had been established for the attack.
According to NBC New York, although no concrete links have been found, an initial law enforcement review of Mather’s social media accounts indicated he was sympathetic to Shiite extremism and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The IRGC is a powerful faction that controls a business empire, as well as elite arms and intelligence forces that Washington accuses of waging a global campaign of terrorism.
Asked for comment about the case, Mather’s attorney Barron said, “We’re in the early stages, and quite frankly, in cases like this, I think the important thing to remember is that people have to keep an open mind. They need to. Look at everything. Why they think something happened. It cannot be assumed that something has happened because of that.”
He said the preliminary hearing of the case will be held on Friday.
Mather was born in California and recently moved to New Jersey, NBC New York reported, adding that he had a fake driver’s license on him. He was arrested by a state trooper at the scene after being wrestled to the ground by onlookers.
Witnesses said the teacher had been beaten and was speechless. Rushdie was stabbed 10 times, prosecutors said during Mather’s trial, the Times reported.
The attack was planned; Prosecutors told the court that Mattar took a bus to Chautauqua, about 12 miles (19 km) from the shores of Lake Erie, and bought a pass that allowed him to attend Rushdie’s speech, the Times reported. Those who attended said there were no apparent security checks.
The district attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.
NBC New York reported that FBI investigators went to Moder’s last listed address in Fairview, a Bergen County suburb across the Hudson River from Manhattan, on Friday evening.
There was no police presence Saturday at the two-story brick-and-mortar home in a predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood. A woman who entered the house refused to speak to reporters gathered outside.
Bounty on his head
Born in a Muslim Kashmiri family in Bombay, now Mumbai, Rushdie faced long-standing death threats for “The Satanic Verses” before moving to Britain. The book was banned in many countries with large Muslim populations.
In 1989, then-Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for Muslims to kill the author and anyone involved in the book’s publication for blasphemy. Hitoshi Igarashi, the novel’s Japanese translator, was stabbed to death in 1991 in an unsolved case.
There was no official government reaction in Iran to the attack on Rushdie, but several hard-line Iranian newspapers praised his attack. read more
Some Iranian organizations linked to the government have raised multi-million dollar bounties for Rushti’s murder. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khomeini’s successor as supreme leader, said the fatwa was “irreversible” until 2019.
Ali Tehfe, the mayor of Yaroun in southern Lebanon, said he was the son of a man from the city of Matar. The mayor added that the suspect’s parents immigrated to the United States and he was born and raised there.
Asked whether Mather or his parents joined or supported the Iran-backed Hezbollah armed group in Lebanon, Tehfey said he had no information about their political views.
A Hezbollah official told Reuters on Saturday that the group had no further information on the attack on Rushdie. read more
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Kanishka Singh reports in Washington; Additional reporting by Randy Love in Fairview, New Jersey, Rami Ayyub and Ted Hessen in Washington, and Taimur Azari in Beirut; By Nathan Lane and Joseph Ochs; Editing by Alexander Smith and Daniel Wallis
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