US: Man accused of stabbing Salman Rushdie pleads not guilty

Matar's next court appearance was scheduled for September 7.

New York: The man accused of stabbing author Salman Rushdie at an event in New York last week has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges.

Hadi Matar, 24, appeared at a Thursday afternoon hearing at Chautauqua County Court after being indicted by a grand jury, reports dpa news agency. Pictures showed him in a grey striped jumpsuit and white face mask, with his hands shackled.

Matar, of Fairview, New Jersey, was arrested after allegedly rushing on to the stage at the Chautauqua Institution on August 12, stabbing the Indian-born novelist about a dozen times in front of a crowd, including in the neck and eye.

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He was later charged with one count of second-degree attempted murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, and one count of second-degree assault. Judge David Foley refused to grant Matar bail, according to court papers.

Defending, lawyer Nathaniel Barone argued Matar had no criminal record and would not flee the country if released. Foley ordered the lawyers involved in the case not to give interviews to the media.

Chautauqua County district attorney Jason Schmidt told the court that Matar travelled to the area on August 11 from his home in New Jersey carrying “false identification, cash, prepaid Visa cards and multiple knives”.

Urging Foley to deny bail, he said Matar’s “financial ability” exceeded any amount the court could set “due to the sympathy and the alignment of his personal views with an entire nation, and countless other groups and organisations with vast financial resources”.

Matar’s next court appearance was scheduled for September 7.

Rushdie, 75, is being treated in a Pennsylvania hospital for severe wounds and, despite “life-changing” injuries, has retained his “usual feisty and defiant sense of humour”, his family previously said.

His literary agent, Andrew Wylie, said Rushdie has a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and could lose an eye. He was taken off a ventilator on Saturday.

Rushdie’s life has been in jeopardy since 1989, when Iran’s Supreme Leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued an edict demanding his death over his novel “The Satanic Verses”, which was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims. A semi-official Iranian foundation had posted a bounty of more than $3 million.

The author had just taken to the stage at the lakeside retreat for a talk about protection for writers in exile and freedom of expression when the stabbing happened.

Henry Reese, the co-founder of Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum, was onstage with Rushdie and suffered a gash to his forehead, bruising and other minor injuries.

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