British-Indian author Salman Rushdie has been taken off a ventilator and is able to speak again but remains hospitalized after a knife attack that prosecutors say was “preplanned.”
Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie, confirmed the improvement in the 75-year-old author’s condition on Saturday, according to the Associated Press.
The news came a day after Wylie had written in an emailed update that Rushdie “will likely lose one eye” and had suffered severed nerves in his arm.
Hadi Matar, of Fairview, New Jersey, faces charges of attempted murder in the second degree and assault in the second degree in connection with the brutal attack at the Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt said Saturday.
During his arraignment, Schmidt said Matar, 24, admitted to taking steps to plan the grisly attack that has landed Rushdie in the hospital—including getting a pass for the literary event two days prior and arriving to New York on Thursday with a fake ID.
“This was a targeted, unprovoked, preplanned attack on Mr. Rushdie,” Schmidt said. “He didn’t bring a wallet. He had cash, pre-paid Visa cards with him. He had false identification with him.”
Judge Marilyn Jerace ultimately remanded Matar to Chautauqua County without bail, and a public defender for the suspect entered a not guilty plea to the charges on his behalf. The Associated Press reported Matar was wearing a black and white jumpsuit during the arraignment, his hands cuffed in front of him. Matar’s lawyer did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast's request for comment.
“This is the very early stage of what will invariably be a protracted legal process. We will try to be as transparent as we can without compromising the case,” Schmidt said in a press release announcing the charges.
The grim incident began on Friday morning when New York State police say Matar rushed Rushdie just as he was about to begin a talk on the U.S. being an “asylum for writers and other artists in exile” at the non-profit education center and summer resort near Buffalo. Witnesses told The Daily Beast that moments after Rushdie sat down, Matar jumped on the short stage and began to punch and stab the author.
Schmidt said Saturday that Rushdie suffered three stab wounds to the neck, four to the stomach, and sustained a puncture wound to his right eye. The author also suffered two wounds to the chest and a laceration to his right thigh.
Henry Reese, the co-founder and president of City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, which was founded to provide sanctuary to writers exiled under threat of persecution, was interviewing Rushdie and suffered “a minor head injury” during the attack.
Police say that a state trooper assigned to the event “immediately took the suspect into custody.”
“Everyone was shocked,” Marion Baumgarten, who attended the talk with her husband, told The Daily Beast on Friday. “Many people in the audience were crying.”
While authorities have not provided many details about the motivation behind the attack, State Sen. George Borrello, who represents the district where Rushdie was attacked, said in a Friday statement that authorities believe Matar was motivated “by fundamentalist extremism.”
An official for the Iran-backed armed group, Hezbollah, told Reuters on Saturday they don’t “know anything” about Matar’s attack and declined to comment further.
On Saturday, President Joe Biden released a statement stressing that he and the first lady are “shocked and saddened” by the attack against Rushdie.
“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. “The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society. And today, we reaffirm our commitment to those deeply American values in solidarity with Rushdie and all those who stand for freedom of expression.”
Rushdie’s work, particularly his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, has attracted fierce protests, death threats, and even a fatwa for his assassination by the former religious leader of Iran, who accused Rushdie of blasphemy. A $4 million bounty on his head remains active to this day.
On Saturday, Schmidt told the judge about the fatwa against Rushdie, noting it “plays an important role for bail considering because...the agenda that was carried out yesterday is something that's adopted and sanctioned by larger groups and organizations well beyond jurisdictional borders of Chautauqua County.”
But one of Matar’s former high school classmates told The Daily Beast on Friday he was shocked to hear that the 24-year-old could have been involved in Rushdie’s attack. Gabriel Sanchez, 24, said that while the two were classmates at the Elizabeth Learning Center in California, Matar “was a very devout Muslim” who participated in debate and had several friends.
“He was a devout Muslim and one of the few things that I remember talking to him about was kindness,” Sanchez said. “That’s how I remember him and why I wish this isn’t him.”
Sanchez, who said Matar moved to New Jersey around 2014, noted that his former friend never spoke about Iran or Rushdie.
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