Salman Rushdie attack: details emerge about New Jersey suspect

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Details have begun to slowly emerge about Hadi Matar, the man who has been charged with the attempted murder of the author Salman Rushdie.

Matar, 24, was arrested on Friday after allegedly storming the stage of a literary event in New York and stabbing Rushdie as he prepared to speak. Rushdie’s agent said the novelist suffered stab wounds to his arm and liver in the attack, would probably lose an eye and couldn’t speak because he had been put on a ventilator.

Matar is also accused of assault in connection with a facial injury suffered by a man who shared the stage with Rushdie during the attack.

Several people in the audience for the lecture at the Chautauqua Institution, a non-profit education and retreat center, said that Matar was dressed in black and was wearing a mask, leading several to initially think his entry to the stage was a planned spectacle before the gravity of the situation became clear.

Related: Rushdie attack prompts questions over security at New York event

“We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy around this author,” said Kathleen Jones, who was in the audience. “But it became evident in a few seconds that it wasn’t.”

He bought a ticket in advance for Rushdie’s appearance and arrived a day early carrying a fake identification card.

Matar lives in Fairview, New Jersey, and his home was searched by police and the FBI on Friday. He was born in the US to Lebanese parents who emigrated from Yaroun, a village in the south of the country, Ali Tehfe, mayor of the village, told the Associated Press.

The alleged attacker’s social media accounts show that he is sympathetic to extremist Shia causes and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to NBC. Iran’s leadership placed a fatwa – or decree – calling for Rushdie’s head in 1989 following the publication of his book The Satanic Verses, which many Muslims considered to be blasphemous. Threats to the author’s life saw him placed under armed guard for nearly a decade.

However, it is not confirmed that Matar was motivated by the long threat to Rushdie’s life, with Eugene Staniszewski, a major in the New York state police, saying Friday there was “no indication of a motive at this time”. Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian armed group in Lebanon, told Reuters it didn’t know anything about Matar.

The attack, which has been condemned by the US and UK governments as well as Rushdie’s fellow authors, was welcomed by some outlets in Iran. While the current Iranian regime has distanced itself from threats made to Rushdie, the fatwa has never been officially lifted, and an accompanying bounty backed by hardline groups was raised to more than $3m relatively recently.

The Kayhan newspaper, which is close to Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said that “a thousand bravos” should be bestowed upon the “brave and dutiful person who attacked the apostate and evil Salman Rushdie in New York”.