Salman Rushdie’s alleged attacker has said he is “surprised” the author survived – and admitted he has only read “like two pages” of the author’s novel The Satanic Verses.
Speaking from Chautauqua county jail in western New York state, 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 the 1989 fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s then supreme leader, calling for Mr Rushdie’s death over his controversial 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,” he added, citing a warning by his lawyer.
“I read a couple pages [of The Satanic Verses]. Like two pages. I didn’t read the whole thing cover to cover.”
The religious edict urging Muslims to kill the Indian-born British writer was made because Mr Khomeini said the novel’s portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed was blasphemous.
Mr Matar, who has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault, said he watched videos of Mr Rushdie on YouTube.
“I saw a lot of lectures,” he told the Post. “I don’t like people who are disingenuous like that.”
He said he travelled by bus from Buffalo the day before the attack at the Chautauqua Institution festival, where Mr Rushdie was due to speak, sleeping on the grass outside.
Jason Schmidt, the county district attorney, stressed during Mr Matar’s arraignment that he had taken steps to “pre-plan” the incident.
“This was a targeted, unprovoked, pre-planned attack on Mr Rushdie,” Mr Schmidt said.
Mr Rushdie is recovering after suffering a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm.
He is likely to lose an eye. Despite that, he retains 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.
He said he had a part-time job at a department store last year but spent most of the past few months in his mother’s basement in Fairview, New Jersey, “using the internet, playing video games, watching Netflix”.
Mr Matar was born in the United States to Lebanese parents.
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.
Reports say he was in contact with supporters of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. His social media featured pictures of Iranian clerics and general Qassem Soleimani, killed by a US air strike in 2020. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)
Telegraph Media Group Limited