Salman Rushdie is awake and ‘articulated’ after knife attack in New York, official says

By Aya Elamroussi and Mark Morales, CNN

(CNN) – Award-winning author Salman Rushdie is awake and “articulate” in his conversations with investigators as he remains hospitalized with serious injuries following a knife attack in western New York on Friday, said a law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the investigation. CNN Monday.

Rushdie, 75, underwent emergency surgery after a man allegedly stabbed him repeatedly ahead of his scheduled lecture at the Chautauqua Institution, officials said.

The writer, whose books have won him awards, was conscious on Monday and able to answer investigators’ questions, according to the law enforcement official.

It’s unclear what Rushdie told investigators following the attack that rocked the literary world and prompted immediate condemnation from around the world.

The author suffered three stab wounds to the neck, four stab wounds to the stomach, punctures to his right eye and chest and a laceration to his right thigh, said Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt, during the suspect’s arraignment over the weekend. Rushdie could lose sight in his right eye, he noted, adding that the attack was targeted and planned in advance.

The attack suspect, identified as 24-year-old Hadi Matar, allegedly jumped onto the scene at the Chautauqua facility, about 70 miles southwest of Buffalo, New York, and rushed towards Rushdie, stabbing him repeatedly, according to New York State. Police. The suspect was restrained by members of the public and staff who forced him to the ground until he was arrested by a state trooper.

Matar’s mother, Silvana Fardos, told the Daily Mail in an interview that her son, who grew up in the United States and was outgoing, took a month-long trip to the Middle East in 2018 and returned as a “whimsical introvert”. She said she didn’t find out about the knife attack until the FBI raided her home in Fairview, New Jersey.

Officials believe Matar, who lived in Fairview, traveled to Buffalo by bus and used a ride-sharing app to reach Chautauqua the day before the attack, according to the law enforcement official who spoke to CNN.

Investigators do not know where Matar spent the night and they are working with the institution to go through surveillance footage to determine if he was near the area overnight, the official added.

When arrested, Matar had a fake driver’s license, cash, two Visa prepaid gift cards and no wallet, the official told CNN. Matar refused to answer questions from authorities when he was taken into custody and asked for a lawyer, the law enforcement official said.

Public defender Nathaniel Barone, who represents Matar, told CNN his client has been “very cooperative” and is communicating openly.

Matar pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted second-degree murder and second-degree assault with intent to cause bodily harm with a deadly weapon, Barone said.

Rushdie went into hiding after his novel “The Satanic Verses” was published in 1988, drawing criticism from some Muslims who considered it sacrilege. Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who described the book as an insult to Islam and the faith prophet Muhammad, issued a religious decree, or fatwa, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.

What we know about the suspect

The motive for the attack remains unclear and authorities are examining the items they took from Matar’s New Jersey home, according to the law enforcement source.

Fardos told the Daily Mail that FBI agents seized several items including a computer, books and knives from his son’s basement apartment. She said she didn’t know if her son had read Rushdie’s book.

Fardos, who is Lebanese and was born a Muslim, told the outlet that she thinks Matar has become more religious since his trip to Lebanon about four years ago, and he criticized her for not raising him from a stricter Muslim way.

“I just can’t believe he was capable of doing something like this,” his mother told the Daily Mail. “As I told the FBI, I won’t bother talking to him again. He is responsible for his actions.”

Matar, who has no documented criminal history, is charged with using a knife in the attack, according to a felony complaint.

It is still unclear how he was able to enter the event armed with a knife. There were no security searches or metal detectors at the event, said a witness whom CNN did not identify as he expressed concerns for his personal safety.

Matar has been described as quiet and mostly on his own, according to people who interacted with him at a boxing gym in North Bergen, New Jersey.

Desmond Boyle, the owner of the State of Fitness Boxing Club, told CNN that Matar signed up there in April.

“You know that look, that ‘this is the worst day of your life’ look? It came up every day like that,” Boyle told CNN.

Gym member Roberto Irizarry told CNN that Matar went to the gym about three or four times a week and was “a very quiet kid” who kept to himself.

Matar faces up to 32 years if convicted, the district attorney said.

United States condemns statement by Iranian government

The assault on the famous author has won him the support of writers and officials around the world.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “appalled” by the attack on Rushdie, who is also a British citizen.

“Appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed while exercising a right that we should never stop defending. At this time my thoughts are with his loved ones.”

Rushdie began living under British protection after Iran issued the fatwa calling for his death.

On Monday, the Iranian government denied any connection to the attack in its first official reaction.

“We do not consider anyone but (Rushdie) and his supporters worthy of blame and even condemnation,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani told a televised press conference.

Iranian officials have learned nothing about the suspect other than what US media has reported, Kanaani said, according to Iranian state media. “We categorically and seriously deny any connection of the aggressor with Iran,” Kanaani added.

The US State Department denounced Iran’s position, saying the comments are “despicable” and “disgusting”.

“It’s no secret that the Iranian regime has been at the center of threats to his life for years now,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price, who called the “jubilation of Iran in the face of the “absolutely outrageous” attack.

“We want to make it very clear that this is not something we can tolerate,” Price said.

In 1998, the Iranian government sought to distance itself from the fatwa by pledging not to seek to enforce it. Despite this, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reaffirmed the religious edict.

In February 2017, on Khamenei’s official website, the supreme leader was asked if the “fatwa against Rushdie was still in effect”, to which Khamenei confirmed that it was, saying: “The decree is as that Imam Khomeini published”.

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