Alleged Rushdie attacker, awaiting trial in New York, could still face federal charges, lawyer says

MAYVILLE, N.Y. (AP) — The lawyer for the New Jersey man charged with stabbing author Salman Rushdie is in talks with county and federal prosecutors to try to resolve existing charges of attempted murder without a trial — as well as potential terrorism-related charges that could still be coming, he said Friday.

Hadi Matar, 26, has been held without bail since his 2022 arrest, immediately after allegedly attacking the internationally acclaimed writer in front of a stunned audience he was about to address at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York. Rushdie was blinded in one eye, and moderator Henry Reese also was wounded.

Matar pleaded not guilty to assault and attempted murder after being indicted by a Chautauqua County grand jury shortly after the attack.

The U.S. Justice Department continues to consider separate federal charges against Matar, though none have yet been filed, according to public defender Nathaniel Barone, who said he is in contact with federal prosecutors.

“They’re looking at it from a whole different perspective,” Barone said.

“Any statute you’re dealing with federally could be terrorist-based,” he added, without providing details, “and the exposure is much more significant for my client than the state charges.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said it does not confirm or deny investigations.

If Matar agrees to plead guilty in the state and a potential federal case, Barone said, he would want a shorter state prison sentence in return, something Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt is unwilling to consider.

Barone said Matar faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of attempted murder, and he has proposed a maximum of 20 years instead — otherwise, “there’s no carrot to plead here.”

Schmidt said he would not sign off on less than the maximum, given the nature of the crime, regardless of whether the Justice Department brings a case.

“It’s not just Salman Rushdie,” he said. “It’s freedom of speech. It’s the fact that this occurred in front of thousands of people and it was recorded, and it’s also a recognition that some people should be held to the top charge.”

Rushdie, 76, spent years in hiding after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, in 1989 calling for his death due to his novel “The Satanic Verses,” which some Muslims consider blasphemous. Over the past two decades, Rushdie has traveled freely.

The prolific Indian-born British-American author detailed the near-fatal attack and painful recovery in a memoir: “Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder,” released in April. In it, Rushdie wrote that he saw a man running toward him and described the knife plunging into his hand, severing tendons and nerves, as he raised it in self-defense.

“After that there are many blows, to my neck, to my chest, to my eye, everywhere,” he wrote. “I feel my legs give way, and I fall.” Rushdie does not use his attacker’s name in the book, referring to him as “The A.,” short for “The Ass” (or “Asinine man”).

The author, whose works also include “Midnight’s Children” and “Victory City,” is on the witness list for Matar’s trial in Chautauqua County, scheduled for September.

Matar was born in the U.S. but holds dual citizenship in Lebanon, where his parents were born. His mother has said that her son changed, becoming withdrawn and moody, after visiting his father in Lebanon in 2018.

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