The 24-year-old assailant who repeatedly stabbed Salman Rushdie at a speaking engagement in upstate New York said he was “surprised” the author pulled through in a jailhouse interview Wednesday.
“When I heard he survived, I was surprised, I guess,” Hadi Matar of New Jersey said in a 15-minute video interview with the New York Post from the Chautauqua County Jail in Mayville, New York Wednesday.
He did not say whether his attack was a response to the fatwa issued against Rushdie by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 over his novel The Satanic Verses, which some believe blasphemed Muhammad. Rushdie has written a dozen novels, including Midnight’s Children.
He did, however, extol the late Iranian religious and political dictator. “I respect the ayatollah,” he said. “I think he’s a great person. That’s as far as I will say about that.” Matar added that he only read only “a couple pages” of the The Satanic Verses.
It was apparently enough to form an opinion of Rushdie, saying, “He’s someone who attacked Islam; he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.”
Rushdie spent ten years in hiding under police protection after the fatwa was issued calling for his murder. As of 2012, the bounty on Rushdie’s head, put up by an Iranian religious foundation, was roughly $3.3 million, the New York Times reports. However, in recent years he had been able to live more openly in New York. “Oh, I have to live my life,” he said recently, according to the Times.
On August 12, Rushdie was attacked on stage before he was to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution. Stabbed at least 10 times, he sustained damage to his liver and severed nerves in his arm and eye, according to his agent. As of Thursday, his ventilator has been removed and he is covering, reports the Post.
Matar has been charged with attempted murder and assault. He pled not guilty at a hearing last Saturday.
Matar told the Post that he rode a bus from New Jersey to Buffalo the day before he allegedly tried to kill the writer, then cabbed it to Chautauqua. The night before the attack, “I was just outside the whole time,” he said.
Matar was familiar with Rushdie’s lectures, saying he had watched “a lot” of them on YouTube. He “didn’t like” them, however, finding the author “disingenuous.”
Matar was born in the United States to Lebanese parents. His mother U.K. tabloid The Daily Mail that a 2018 visit to Lebanon “changed” him—for the worse.
“I was expecting him to come back motivated, to complete school, to get his degree and a job. But instead he locked himself in the basement,” Silvana Fardos told the Mail.
Matar said his time in the basement was spent “using the internet, playing video games, watching Netflix, stuff like that.”
He also took up boxing at a nearby gym.
Linda Abrams, who was sitting in the first row during the assault, described Matar last week as “just furious, furious. Like intensely strong and just fast.”
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