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Suspect in Salman Rushdie's stabbing is indicted by grand jury

The suspect, Hadi Matar, 24, of New Jersey, was arraigned on Thursday.
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The man accused of stabbing "The Satanic Verses" author Salman Rushdie has been indicted by a grand jury, Chautauqua County, New York, prosecutors said.

The suspect, Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, was arraigned Thursday in Chautauqua County Court.

He pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault, said a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. Judge David W. Foley denied bail and remanded Matar to the Chautauqua County Jail, the spokeswoman said.

Matar was arrested Aug. 12 after he rushed the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and stabbed Rushdie several times, shocking the audience.

He was charged with second-degree attempted murder the next day, and his court-appointed lawyer entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Rushdie, 75, was being treated at a Pennsylvania hospital for serious injuries, The Associated Press reported.

Andre Wylie, Rushdie's literary agent, told the AP that Rushdie is on "the road to recovery" but that he has a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm.

Rushdie could lose an eye, Wylie told the AP.

In the months before the attack, Matar took classes at a boxing gym a couple of miles from his home. Desmond Boyle, the owner of State of Fitness Boxing Club in North Bergen, described Matar as a loner who would walk into the gym “looking like his dog just died.” 

“He was a real sad soul,” Boyle added.

Hadi Matar
Hadi Matar arrives for his arraignment in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, N.Y., on Saturday.Gene J. Puskar / AP

Matar attended the gym from April to June, paying $158 a month for a membership that included unlimited classes and gym access. He barely spoke during the training sessions and made no efforts to connect with others at the tight-knit gym, Boyle said.

“He’s been here 27 classes, and nobody knows him,” Boyle said. “He talked in a whisper. He didn’t even grunt when he hit the bag.”

At 1:31 a.m. on Aug. 9, three days before the attack, Matar emailed State of Fitness and asked to cancel his membership “as I won’t be able to make it back to the gym for right now,” according to a copy of the email viewed by NBC News. 

The avatar on Matar’s email account was an image of the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rushdie's life has been under threat since the publication in 1988 of "The Satanic Verses," a novel that features a character inspired by the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

The book provoked intense backlash in much of the Muslim world, drawing accusations of blasphemy.

The next year, Iranian Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for the death of Rushdie and his publishers.

Rushdie was the target of failed assassination attempts. He was forced to go into hiding under the protection of the British government.

He recounted the harrowing ordeal in a memoir, "Joseph Anton," published in 2012. The title came from the pseudonym he used while he was living underground.

Rushdie is one of the most acclaimed novelists in contemporary literature, celebrated for his provocative mix of magical realism and historical allegory.

He was at the Chautauqua Institution to give a talk about protections for writers in exile and the importance of free speech.

Since the attack, sales of "The Satanic Verses" have surged on Amazon and other online book retailers. The novel is Amazon's No. 8 most-sold book of the week.