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Salman Rushdie stabbing suspect pleads not guilty to attempted murder

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The man accused of stabbing Salman Rushdie at a literary event pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault during a New York state court hearing on Thursday.

Handcuffed and dressed in a black and white striped prison outfit, Hadi Matar, 24, answered a grand jury charge after he allegedly stormed the stage at last Friday’s event and stabbed Rushdie repeatedly in the neck and abdomen — the British author leaving in critical condition.

The judge ordered Matar to be held without bail.

After the attack, Rushdie was flown to a nearby hospital for emergency surgery.

His condition remains serious, but the 75-year-old is showing signs of improvement and has been taken off the ventilator.

The award-winning writer was under police protection for years after Iranian leaders summoned him to assassinate him for his portrayal of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad in his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses.”

He was about to be interviewed as part of a lecture series at the Chautauqua Institute when a man stormed onto the stage and stabbed him repeatedly in the neck and stomach.

Matar was wrestled to the ground by staff and audience during the lecture, before police took him into custody.

His attorney, public defender Nathaniel Barone, insisted on the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

He also warned not to litigate the matter in the press and expressed concern about an interview with Matar published this week by the New York Post.

In it, Matar told the tabloid that he was “surprised” that Rushdie had survived the attack.

“I don’t like the person. I don’t think he’s a very good person,” he said of the author. ‘I do not like him. I don’t like him that much.’

Barone said these kinds of interviews could make it impossible to put together an impartial jury.

“Maybe, just maybe, future jurors will hear about certain things that will always be in the back of their minds,” Barone told reporters.

According to prosecutor Jason Schmidt, such an interview could work against the defense: “Every time there’s a statement, you look at the possibility of, you know, a confession at interest.”

Judge David Foley agreed to the defense’s request to issue a temporary gag order, barring the parties from discussing the case in press interviews.

Persistent threat to life

Police and prosecutors have provided little information about Matar’s background or the possible motivation behind the attack.

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

Rushdie, who was born in India in 1947, moved to New York two decades ago and became a US citizen in 2016.

Despite the constant threat to his life, he was increasingly seen in public – often with no appreciable safety.

In an interview he gave to the German magazine Stern just days before Friday’s attack, he described how his life had returned to a measure of normalcy after moving from Britain.

Iran this week denied any connection to Rushdie’s attacker, but accused the writer himself of “insulting” Islam in “The Satanic Verses.”

“By insulting the sacred affairs of Islam… Salman Rushdie has exposed himself to the wrath and wrath of the people,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said.

In Washington, US State Department spokesman Ned Price described Iran’s attitude as “despicable”.

(AFP)

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