A ‘devout Muslim’ accused of trying to kill Sir Salman Rushdie is a supporter of Iran’s hardline regime which had called for the author’s murder, it has been claimed.
Hadi Matar, 24, appeared in court last night in handcuffs, a black-and-white jumpsuit and face mask to deny charges of attempted murder and assault.
He was remanded in custody following the brief hearing in New York State a day after Sir Salman was stabbed up to 15 times at a literary event in the area.
Sir Salman, 75, remains on a hospital ventilator after suffering a damaged liver and severed nerves in his arm in the brutal knife attack on Friday morning. His spokesman said he is likely to lose an eye.
Sir Salman was about to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution when a masked knifeman stormed the stage and attacked him.
In a three-minute video clip shared by one of the attendees, people could be heard screaming and gasping as a dozen audience members, including a police officer, rushed to the stage and wrestled the attacker off the author.
Blood was left spattered across a chair and a screen after the frenzied attack.
Hadi Matar, 24, center, arrives for an arraignment in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, NY on Saturday
This still image from video shows a man being escorted from the stage as people tend to author Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie (pictured signing a book in France in 2008) might lose an eye after being stabbed and seriously injured
Sir Salman’s life has been under threat since the late Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of Iran’s Islamic revolution, issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for his death following publication of the author’s novel The Satanic Verses, which some Muslims condemned as blasphemous.
A US law enforcement source said that initial evidence indicated that Matar was ‘sympathetic’ to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Shia extremism, broadcaster NBC News reported. The IRGC is accused of sponsoring terrorism and spreading militancy across the world.
Helpers cradle the wounded author: Satanic Verse author Salman Rushdie is helped by people after he was stabbed on stage
Matar was born in the US to Lebanese parents who emigrated from the southern border town of Yaroun, a stronghold of the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah. Pictures of the town showed billboards emblazoned with the image of Ayatollah Khomeini.
A Hezbollah official said they don’t ‘know anything’ about Matar’s attack and declined to comment.
Fouad Komayah, who was married to Matar’s mother, wept when told the news about his former stepson and said he had ‘no idea’ about his political sympathies.
He told the MoS: ‘Hadi? No! Hadi? Hadi? Hadi is a very good boy, he is smart, he has a good heart. He wouldn’t touch anybody.’
Matar was last night described as a loner who is believed to have lived with his mother and two sisters in a smart detached home in Fairview, New Jersey, for the past three years. ‘They are a normal, very nice, very American family,’ one neighbour said.
‘I never saw any red flags with him. We talked about working out and fitness and food. We used to go boxing together but we didn’t do sparring – we did jumping, punching a bag, not the heavy stuff.
‘I would say he was a loner and I didn’t see him with friends and I don’t think he socialised much.’
Sir Salman Rushdie was put on a stretcher and airlifted to hospital after the shocking stabbing this morning
At least ten FBI agents searched the house until the early hours of this morning. The family is believed to own three SUVs, including a silver Jeep, but Matar did not drive.
The neighbour added: ‘The last time I saw him was on Monday and he seemed like his normal self. We were talking about going for food at a Turkish restaurant nearby.’
Before moving to New Jersey, Matar is believed to have attended the Elizabeth Learning Centre in Cudahy, California. Former classmate Gabriel Sanchez told the Daily Beast website that Matar never spoke about Iran or Sir Salman. ‘He was a devout Muslim, and one of the few things that I remember talking to him about was kindness.’
Sir Salman was flown to hospital after the attack, where he received emergency surgery. Spokesman Andrew Wylie said: ‘The news is not good. Salman will likely lose one eye. The nerves in his arm were severed, and his liver was damaged.’
The author lived under 24-hour police guard and was often forced to move home for about a decade after the fatwa was issued and a £2.5 million bounty put on his head.
By 1998 the Iranian regime said it no longer supported the fatwa and the author began to appear again at public events.
In an interview just two weeks ago, Sir Salman, who was knighted in 2008, described his life as now ‘relatively normal’.
Shockingly, several Iranian newspapers yesterday poured praise on the attacker.
The hardline Kayhan newspaper, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, wrote: ‘A thousand bravos… to the brave and dutiful person who attacked the apostate and evil Salman Rushdie in New York.’
The attack sent shockwaves through the literary and political worlds. Historian and friend Sir Simon Schama said: ‘A lot of us rashly and stupidly thought the time of assassination and murder in the name of some belief or other were over, especially as Salman had been so brave, so courageous and so successful in leading such a normal life.’ Boris Johnson said he was ‘appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend.’
The Satanic Verses last night soared to fifth place on Amazon’s fiction bestseller list.