The alleged assailant of author Salman Rushdie has stated his admiration for Iran’s former supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, who called for Rushdie’s death in 1989, according to reports.
During a video interview, the suspected attacker, Hadi Matar, told the New York Post that he respects the former Iranian leader and believes Rushdie attacked Islam through his writing. Iran has denied involvement in the attack, but Rushdie has been accused of courting controversy.
“I respect the Ayatollah. I think he’s a great person. That’s as far as I will say about that,” Matar told the Post from the Chautauqua County Jail, where he is being held.
The attack on Rushdie last week, which left him hospitalised, has brought Iran’s previous threats against him to light.
The Iranian government had distanced itself from earlier calls for Rushdie’s death and stated that it was unrelated to Matar in any way, but critics have pointed to recent statements by Iranian officials as evidence that the state’s position has not changed significantly.
Matar told the Post that he had only read a few pages of Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, but that he had seen author videos on YouTube. According to the paper, Matar stated, “I don’t like him [Rushdie] very much.”
According to the paper, Matar denied any contact with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Last weekend, his attorney, Nathaniel Barone, pled not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault.
Matar also said he was surprised to learn the accomplished author had survived the attack, adding that he decided to see Rushdie at the Chautauqua Institution after he saw a tweet last winter about the writer’s planned appearance.
“I don’t like the person. I don’t think he’s a very good person,” Matar told the newspaper. “He’s someone who attacked Islam. He attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.”
Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, according to his agent, in the attack Friday. His agent, Andrew Wylie, said his condition has improved and he is on the road to recovery.
Matar, who is charged with attempted murder and assault, told the Post he took a bus to Buffalo the day before the attack and then took a Lyft to Chautauqua, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) away.
He bought a pass to the Chautauqua Institution grounds and then slept in the grass the night before Rushdie’s planned talk.
Matar was born in the U.S. but holds dual citizenship in Lebanon, where his parents were born. His mother has told reporters in interviews that Matar came back changed from a visit to see his father in Lebanon in 2018. After that, he became moody and withdrew from his family, she said.