Inside Hadi Matar’s Last Days Before the Stabbing Attack on Salman Rushdie

·6 min read
Chautauqua County Jail via Getty
Chautauqua County Jail via Getty

Three days before Hadi Matar allegedly rushed the stage at a literary event to brutally attack British-Indian author Salman Rushdie, the 24-year-old wrote a late-night email to his New Jersey gym to cancel his membership.

“Hey this is Hadi,” Matar wrote in an Aug. 9 email to the State of Fitness Boxing Club at 1:31 a.m. “I was going tk [sic] ask if you guys can disable autopay for me right now. As I won’t be able to make it back to the gym right now. Thanks.”

The email, obtained by The Daily Beast, also showcased Matar’s avatar: the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran who upheld a call to all Muslims—or a fatwa—to kill Rushdie over three decades ago.

“I didn’t even think anything of it when I first saw the avatar,” the gym’s manager, Rosaria Calabrese, told The Daily Beast on Monday. “Now it’s chilling, given what happened.”

Calabrese also noted that she did not respond to the email until around 6 p.m. on Aug. 11, telling Matar that while he was supposed to come in person to cancel his auto-pay she would “make the exception.” Prosecutors allege that around that same time, Matar took a bus from Fairview, New Jersey to Chautauqua Institution in western New York—his ticket already purchased to see Rushdie speak on the importance of providing writers with places for asylum.

On Friday morning, moments after Rushdie had sat down on stage at the intellectual retreat in western New York, Matar allegedly brutally stabbed the author about 10 times before a horrified audience.

Matar, who was arrested on the scene after bystanders rushed the stage, has since been charged with second-degree attempted murder and assault with a weapon. The grisly incident left Rushdie with grave injuries that briefly forced him on a ventilator.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/State of Fitness Boxing Club/Rosaria Calabrese</div>
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/State of Fitness Boxing Club/Rosaria Calabrese

His attorney, Nathaniel Barone, told The Daily Beast on Monday that he spoke to his client that morning—and declined to provide details about their conversation but did note that Matar “had no priors.” “It’s so early in the process at this point we are gathering information and trying to confirm the information we are given,” Barone added, stressing that anyone charged with a crime “has the presumption of innocence.”

While authorities have not gone into details about the motivation behind the attack, Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt stressed during Matar’s arraignment on Saturday that he had taken steps to “preplan” the incident where Rushdie suffered three stab wounds to the neck, four to the stomach, and sustained a puncture wound to his right eye.

“This was a targeted, unprovoked, pre-planned attack on Mr. Rushdie,” Schmidt said. “He didn’t bring a wallet. He had cash, prepaid Visa cards with him. He had false identification with him.”

Henry Reese, the co-founder and president of City of Asylum—which was founded to provide sanctuary to writers exiled under threat of persecution—was set to interview Rushdie on Friday and suffered “a minor head injury” during the attack. He has since been released from the hospital.

According to Yahoo News, a New York Police Department intelligent assessment states that an analysis of Matar's “probable social media presence indicates a likely adherence or sympathy towards Shi’a extremism and sympathies to the Iranian regime/Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).” The report also included pictures from a WhatsApp account believed to belong to Matar, which includes the leader of Iraq's pro-Iranian milia moment.

“The apparent assassination attempt on Salman Rushdie by an individual with strong indicators of ideological support for the Iranian regime, specifically the IRGC, comes amid a series of recent high-profile plot disruptions involving individuals with ties to Iran targeting perceived enemies of Iran in the U.S.,” the NYPD assessment added, according to Yahoo.

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.

But while one of Matar’s former high school classmates previously told The Daily Beast that he was shocked to hear that the “very devote Muslim” could have engaged in such violence—his mother revealed on Sunday his spiral into extremism.

In a Sunday interview with The Daily Mail, Silvana Fardos said that while she was “shell shocked” that her “quiet” son could be accused of such an awful crime, she did note that her son changed after a 2018 month-long trip to Lebanon to visit his father. While she thought the trip would motivate him “to complete school, to get his degree and a job,” Fardos admitted that instead Matar “ locked himself in the basement” and isolated himself from society. She added that her son would cook his own meals and live a nocturnal lifestyle.

Fardos, however, said that recently Matar seemed like he was attempting to return to life, noting that he had begun working at a local Marshalls and had talked about going back to school to study cybersecurity.

Calabrese said that on April 11, Matar signed up for the premium package of the State of Fitness Boxing Club—allowing him to both use the fitness equipment and take group boxing classes. She added that, unlike other prospective gym-goers, Matar did not ask for a trial and knew exactly what kind of group class he wanted to join.

During his brief stint, the gym’s owner told The Daily Beast on Monday, Matar took about 27 boxing classes and used the equipment a handful of times. She noted that although Matar “was really a beginner” and was not “very athletic,” he seemed eager to “hone his skills” at boxing.

“I manage the desk and he would come in, check in very respectfully and politely,” the gym owner added. “He was friendly and nice but he wasn’t chatty or social. He just did his thing and then left.”

The gym owner added that when Matar canceled his membership on Aug. 9, she did not think about it for a second. It was not until The Daily Beast emailed her on Friday, just hours after Rushdie’s attack, that she “put two and two together.”

“After that email, I went back and saw that I had just emailed him back the day prior,” she added. “I realized that at the time, I was curious that he was conscientious enough to let us know he wanted to cancel. Usually, we have clients who just remove their credit card information and we never hear from them again. He had the courtesy to let us know he wanted to discontinue his account.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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