Rushdie attacker says he's ‘surprised’ author survived

Suspect Hadi Matar (left) has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault, regarding Indian-born writer Salman Rushdie (right). PHOTOS: AFP, NYTIMES

NEW YORK (AFP, REUTERS) - The New Jersey man accused of stabbing Salman Rushdie told the New York Post in an interview published on Wednesday (Aug 17) that he was "surprised" the author had survived the attack.

"When I heard he survived, I was surprised, I guess," Hadi Matar, 24, told the tabloid, which said they held a video interview with the jailed suspect.

The suspected assailant has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder charges.

He did not say if he was inspired by a 1989 edict, or fatwa, issued under Iran’s former supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that ordered Muslims to kill Rushdie for what he deemed the blasphemous nature of the book “The Satanic Verses”.

“I respect the ayatollah. I think he’s a great person. That’s as far as I will say about that,” said Matar, who according to the Post was advised by his lawyer not to discuss the issue.

Matar also told the Post he had only "read a couple pages" of Rushdie's controversial novel.

He said a tweet in the winter announcing the author's visit to the Chautauqua Institution gave him the idea of going there.

Rushdie, 75, was set to deliver a lecture on artistic freedom at the western New York venue when police say 24-year-old Matar rushed the stage and stabbed the Indian-born writer on Friday last week.

Rushdie has lived with a bounty on his head since The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, prompted Khomeini's fatwa.

"I don't like him very much," Matar said of Rushdie. "He's someone who attacked Islam, he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems," he told the Post, adding that he had watched YouTube videos of Rushdie.

Matar denied being in contact with Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the Post reported.

Matar, of Fairview, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault at a court appearance last Saturday, Barone has told Reuters.

Images of Iran's late supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, are cast in Teheran to mark 33rd anniversary of his death, in June 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Matar also told the Post he had taken a bus to Buffalo the day before the attack and then took a Lyft ride to Chautauqua.

"I was hanging around pretty much. Not doing anything in particular, just walking around," he told the Post, adding that he had slept on the grass last Thursday night.

"I was just outside the whole time," the paper quoted him as saying.

On Monday, Matar’s mother, Lebanese-born Silvana Fardos of Fairview, New Jersey, described Matar as “a moody introvert” who became increasingly fixated on Islam after visiting Lebanon to see his estranged father, in an interview with Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper.

He is set to appear in court Friday.

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