'Never saw any red flags': Neighbors describe Hadi Matar as 'loner' as Salman Rushdie attacker pleads NOT guilty

Hadi Matar, the suspect in the stabbing of 'The Satanic Verses' author Salman Rushdie, was charged with attempted murder and assault

'Never saw any red flags': Neighbors describe Hadi Matar as 'loner' as Salman Rushdie attacker pleads NOT guilty
Hadi Matar (L) is accused of rushing the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and stabbing Salman Rushdie (R) (Masih Alinejad/Twitter and Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
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CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY, NEW YORK: Hadi Matar, the suspect in the stabbing of 'The Satanic Verses' author Salman Rushdie, pleaded not guilty during an arraignment on Saturday afternoon, July 13. The 24-year-old was charged with attempted murder and assault. He entered the plea during a proceeding at the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville.

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Matar is accused of rushing the stage at the Chautauqua Institution on Friday morning, July 13, where Rushdie, 75, was starting a lecture on freedom of expression. “This was a targeted, pre-planned unprovoked attack on Mr. Rushdie,” said Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt during the arraignment, adding that Rushdie suffered three stab wounds to the right side of his neck; four in the stomach; a puncture wound to his right eye which he may lose, two puncture wounds to his chest; and a laceration to his right thigh. He was airlifted to UPMC Hamot hospital in Erie and is on a ventilator.

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Schmidt said that Matar, a resident of Fairview, NJ, took a bus to Chautauqua and bought a pass to the educational institute two days before the event was scheduled to take place. He arrived at least a day before the event.  “He didn’t bring a wallet. He had cash, pre-paid Visa cards with him. He had false identification with him,” Schmidt said, according to New York Post

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Schmidt told Judge Marilyn Gerace about the 1989 fatwa against Rushdie by the Iranian government under then leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. “That plays an important role for bail consideration because his resources don’t matter to me … the agenda that was carried out yesterday is something that’s adopted and sanctioned by larger groups and organizations well beyond jurisdictional borders of Chautauqua County,” Schmidt, who wanted Matar to be held without bail, said. “Even if this court sets a million dollar bail, we stand a risk that this bail could be met because of that,” the prosecutor added.

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Matar was sent to jail by Gerace without bail. After the proceeding, Matar’s lawyer, Nathaniel Barone, said his client had no criminal record and had been “very cooperative” with him. Matar's social media posts suggested he supported Iran and its Revolutionary Guard. He also made posts in support of Shi’a extremism. 

Meanwhile, Fouad Komayah, who was married to Matar's mother, cried when he heard the news about his former stepson. "Hadi? No! Hadi? Hadi? Hadi is a very good boy, he is smart, he has a good heart. He wouldn't touch anybody," he reportedly said. Matar was described by neighbors as a loner who possibly lived with his mother and two sisters.

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"They are a normal, very nice, very American family," one neighbor said, according to the Daily Mail. "I never saw any red flags with him. We talked about working out and fitness and food. We used to go boxing together but we didn't do sparring – we did jumping, punching a bag, not the heavy stuff. I would say he was a loner and I didn't see him with friends and I don't think he socialized much." The neighbor added, "The last time I saw him was on Monday and he seemed like his normal self. We were talking about going for food at a Turkish restaurant nearby."

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Matar is believed to have attended the Elizabeth Learning Centre in Cudahy, California, before he moved to New Jersey. Gabriel Sanchez, one of his former classmates, told the Daily Beast, "He was a devout Muslim, and one of the few things that I remember talking to him about was kindness."

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The DA’s office said earlier it had been “in touch with our counterparts in the state of New Jersey where the attacker is from to share information and assist them in helping us to better understand the planning and preparation which preceded the attack so that we and the different agencies involved can determine what, if any, additional charges should be asserted.”

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