Salman Rushdie’s alleged attacker ‘surprised’ author survived stabbing

Sir Salman Rushdie’s alleged attacker has said cannot believe the author is still alive - Matt Crossick/PA wire
Sir Salman Rushdie’s alleged attacker has said cannot believe the author is still alive - Matt Crossick/PA wire

Sir Salman Rushdie’s alleged attacker has said he is “surprised” the author survived as he admitted he only read “like two pages” of the author’s controversial novel The Satanic Verses.

Speaking from the Chautauqua County Jail in western New York, Hadi Matar told the New York Post he could not believe the 75-year-old writer was still alive after being stabbed 10 times in the chest, face and leg.

“When I heard he survived, I was surprised, I guess,” said Mr Matar, 24, of New Jersey.

Asked if he was inspired by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s then-Supreme Leader, issuing a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989 over his infamous book, Mr Matar said: “I respect the Ayatollah. I think he’s a great person.

“That’s as far as I will say about that,” said Mr Matar, citing a warning by his lawyer. “I read a couple pages (of Satanic Verse)... Like two pages. I didn’t read the whole thing cover to cover,” he added.

The religious edict urging Muslims to kill the Indian-born British writer was issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, who accused the author of blasphemy for the novel’s portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad.

Mr Matar, who has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault, said he watched videos of Rushdie on YouTube. “I saw a lot of lectures,” he told the Post, wearing a black and white prison uniform. “I don’t like people who are disingenuous like that.”

He said he travelled by bus from the city of Buffalo the day before the attack on the Chautauqua Institute literary festival where Rushdie was due to speak, sleeping in the grass outside.

Jason Schmidt, Chautauqua County District Attorney, stressed during Mr Matar’s arraignment that he had taken steps to “preplan” the incident. “This was a targeted, unprovoked, pre-planned attack on Rushdie,” Mr Schmidt said. “He didn’t bring a wallet. He had cash, and prepaid Visa cards with him. He had false identification with him.”

Rushdie is recovering after suffering a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, his agent said. He was likely to lose the injured eye.

Despite his “life-changing” injuries, Rushdie has retained his “usual feisty and defiant sense of humour”, his family has said.

Mr Matar went on to complain about the conditions in the local jail, where he is being held without bail. “A lot of the food they have given me is not allowed in my religion to eat,” he said, adding he is “doing all right”.

Mr Matar revealed that last year he had a part-time job at a department store, but spent most of the last few months in his mother’s basement in Fairview “using the internet, playing video games, watching Netflix, stuff like that”.

Mr Matar was born in the US to Lebanese parents who emigrated from Yaroun in the south of the country, a district controlled by the Iran-backed Shia Muslim militant group Hezbollah.

His mother, Silvana Fardos, said her son returned “a moody introvert” fixated with Islam after a month-long visit to see his estranged father in Lebanon in 2018.

According to reports, Mr Matar was in contact with supporters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps before the stabbing. His social media profiles featured pictures of Iranian clerics and slain general Qassem Soleimani.

The Telegraph revealed last week how Mr Matar had used the name of late Hezbollah commander Imad Mughnaiyah on a fake driving licence he was carrying on the day of his arrest.

Iran, an ally and backer of Hezbollah, praised last Friday’s attack but denied direct involvement. Hezbollah has so far refused to comment.