Salman Rushdie suspect indicted in author's stabbing in front of crowd, denied bail

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MAYVILLE, N.Y. — A judge refused to grant bail Thursday to the man accused of trying to kill Salman Rushdie as the acclaimed author prepared to give a talk in western New York.

Hadi Matar, 24, appeared in a western New York courtroom after a grand jury indicted him on charges that he rushed the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and stabbed Rushdie multiple times in front of a horrified crowd. Matar was arrested Aug. 12.

Initial charges of attempted murder and assault were filed the next day, when Matar’s court-appointed lawyer entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. The prosecutor’s office did not immediately release the new charges.

The 24-year-old who attacked Salman Rushdie was indicted for stabbing the author. A judge also refused to grant him bail Thursday.
The 24-year-old who attacked Salman Rushdie was indicted for stabbing the author. A judge also refused to grant him bail Thursday.

Dressed in a black-and-white jail uniform, Matar stayed quiet during the hearing while his lawyer unsuccessfully tried to persuade the judge that he should be released while he awaited trial. Public defender Nathaniel Barone said Matar had no criminal record and wouldn't flee the country if released.

Barone also asked the judge to do something to stop reporters from trying to contact Matar at the Chautauqua County jail. The lawyer said the jail had received "several hundred phone calls" from people trying to reach Matar.

Some of that media outreach resulted in Matar giving a brief interview to The New York Post, in which he talked about disliking Rushdie and praised Iran's late supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

“I don’t like the person. I don’t think he’s a very good person,” Matar told the media outlet. “He’s someone who attacked Islam. He attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.”

Khomeini issued an edict in 1989 demanding Rushdie's death over his novel "The Satanic Verses," which some Muslims consider blasphemous. A semiofficial Iranian foundation had posted a bounty of over $3 million.

Matar's lawyer complained that the media coverage could potentially lead to a biased jury.

"He's entitled to a fair trial. He's entitled to due process, no matter what he's accused of," Barone said.

Judge David Foley declined that request, but he ordered the lawyers involved in the case not to give interviews.

"No speaking to the press until we have resolved this issue," the judge said.

Rushdie, 75, is getting treatment in a Pennsylvania hospital for severe wounds. His literary agent, Andrew Wylie, has said Rushdie sustained a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm, and he could lose an eye.

Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt said during the court hearing that Matar stabbed Rushdie a dozen times in the neck, stomach, chest, hand and right eye, before he could be stopped by shocked bystanders.

"He doesn't care about his own freedom, judge, and is so driven by his motives that his mission to kill Mr. Rushdie is greater in his mind and outweighs his own personal freedom," Schmidt told the judge.

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Hadi Matar, 24, was indicted for stabbing author Salman Rushdie on Aug. 13.
Hadi Matar, 24, was indicted for stabbing author Salman Rushdie on Aug. 13.

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The author was seated in a chair at the lakeside retreat Aug. 12, waiting to be introduced for a discussion of protections for writers in exile and freedom of expression when Matar jumped onstage.

Henry Reese, 73, the cofounder of Pittsburgh's City of Asylum, was on stage with Rushdie and suffered a gash to his forehead, bruising and other minor injuries.

Matar, who lived in Fairview, New Jersey, with his mother, could get decades in prison if convicted.

Matar's mother, Silvana Fardos, darted out of her two-story brick home in Fairview on Tuesday afternoon and ducked into a maroon sedan, a hat and medical mask covering her face. Reporters who had camped out on the quiet street shouted questions, but Fardos replied that she had “nothing left to say" and drove away.

Since the brazen and bloody attack, a picture has started to emerge of a young man who in recent years had seemed isolated and depressed to those around him, including his mother. He also had grown fixated on religion and admired Khomeini and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, posting images of Iranian figures on his social media pages.

Matar told The Post he considered Khomeini “a great person” but wouldn’t say whether he was following the edict, or fatwa.

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Contributing: Hannan Adely, North Jersey; Carolyn Thompson, The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Salman Rushdie stabbing suspect indicted for attack, denied bail