‘It looked like it was the worst day of his life’: Who is Salman Rushdie attack suspect?

US News

Sir Salman Rushdie’s suspected attacker has denied attempted murder and assault in what a prosecutor called a “pre-planned” crime.

Hadi Matar, 24, was identified by New York police after the attack on Friday.

He appeared in a court in New York state on Saturday wearing a prison jumpsuit and a face mask before entering his plea of not guilty.

A judge ordered him to be held without bail after district attorney Jason Schmidt said Matar took steps to purposely put himself in a position to harm Sir Salman.

“This was a targeted, unprovoked, pre-planned attack on Mr Rushdie,” Mr Schmidt said.

A person was pictured being detained outside the Chautauqua Institution. Photo: AP
Matar is detained outside the Chautauqua Institution. Photo: AP

Police have not established a motive for the stabbing that left the author, 75, seriously injured.

This is what we know of the suspect so far:

More on Salman Rushdie

Born in the US

Matar is from Fairview, New Jersey, and had bought a pass to the event at the Chautauqua Institution.

Spectator Kathleen Jones said the attacker was dressed in black, with a black mask.

Matar was born in the United States to Lebanese parents who emigrated from Yaroun, a border village in southern Lebanon, Mayor Ali Tehfe told the AP news agency.

He is believed to have been born about a decade after the publication of The Satanic Verses, the book that drew Sir Salman death threats, in 1988.

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Author Salman Rushdie attacked

According to NBC, he was born in California, but had recently moved to New Jersey.

Sources said that Matar also had a fake New Jersey driver’s licence on him.

Rosaria Calabrese, manager of the State of Fitness Boxing Club in North Bergen, New Jersey, told The Associated Press that Matar had joined in April – but had emailed her several days ago to say he wanted to cancel his membership because “he wouldn’t be coming back for a while”.

Gym owner Desmond Boyle said he saw “nothing violent” about Matar.

Mr Boyle described him as polite and quiet, yet someone who always looked “tremendously sad” and resisted attempts by others to welcome him.

“He had this look every time he came in. It looked like it was the worst day of his life,” Mr Boyle said.

Police and the FBI have cordoned off the area around Matar’s home.

Read more:
A horrific attack on one of the greatest symbols of free speech
World reacts as Satanic Verses author is stabbed in New York state

Police block the area around the home of Hadi Matar in Fairview, New Jersey on Friday. Pic: AP
Police block the area around the home of Hadi Matar in New Jersey on Friday. Pic: AP

‘Extremist sympathies’ probed

The authorities are unsure if Matar had a criminal record, New York State Police Major Eugene J Staniszewski said.

A rucksack believed to have been left by the suspect was made safe by sheriff’s bomb squad members, and state troopers have requested a search warrant to look inside, Maj Staniszewski said.

According to NBC News, which cited a law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the investigation, a preliminary review of Matar’ social media shows he had sympathies for Shia extremism and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The IRGC has been labelled a terrorist organisation by the US.

Authorities are looking into those alleged sympathies. However, there are no definitive links between Matar and the IRGC, the law enforcement source told NBC.

The Iran-backed Lebanese armed group Hezbollah has said it had no information on the stabbing and would not comment on it.

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Rushdie airlifted after being stabbed.

Mobile phone checked

A mobile phone messaging app belonging to Matar includes images of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the IRGC killed in a US drone strike in January 2020.

The phone also reportedly includes an image of an Iraqi extremist sympathetic to the Iranian regime.

Matar’s lawyer, Nathaniel Barone, said he was still gathering information and declined to comment.

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