Stab attack on Salman Rushdie was ‘preplanned’, says prosecutor

Stab attack on Salman Rushdie was ‘preplanned’, says prosecutor
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Nathaniel Barone, left, defense attorney for Hadi Matar, talks with his client following an arraignment at a courthouse in Mayville, New York, on Aug. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Stab attack on Salman Rushdie was ‘preplanned’, says prosecutor
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Hadi Matar, the accused in the stabbing attack against Salman Rushdie, arrives for an arraignment at a courthouse in Mayville, New York, on Aug. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Updated 14 August 2022

Stab attack on Salman Rushdie was ‘preplanned’, says prosecutor

Stab attack on Salman Rushdie was ‘preplanned’, says prosecutor
  • Suspect Matar joined a fitness boxing club for beginners on April 11 and cancelled his membership days before the attack, club manager says

MAYVILLE, New York: The man accused in the stabbing attack on Salman Rushdie pleaded not guilty Saturday to attempted murder and assault charges in what a prosecutor called a “preplanned” crime, as the renowned author of “The Satanic Verses” appeared to show signs of improvement in hospital.
An attorney for Hadi Matar entered the plea on his behalf during an arraignment in western New York. The suspect appeared in court wearing a black and white jumpsuit and a white face mask, with his hands cuffed in front of him.
A judge ordered him held without bail after District Attorney Jason Schmidt told her Matar took steps to purposely put himself in position to harm Rushdie, getting an advance pass to the event where the author was speaking and arriving a day early bearing a fake ID.
“This was a targeted, unprovoked, preplanned attack on Mr. Rushdie,” Schmidt said.
Public defender Nathaniel Barone complained that authorities had taken too long to get Matar in front of a judge while leaving him “hooked up to a bench at the state police barracks.”
“He has that constitutional right of presumed innocence,” Barone added.
Matar, 24, is accused of attacking Rushdie on Friday as the author was being introduced at a lecture at the Chautauqua Institute, a nonprofit education and retreat center.
Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye. He was on a ventilator and unable to speak and in danger of losing an eye, his agent Andrew Wylie said Friday evening.

But in an update on Saturday, Wylie told the New York Times that Rushdie had started to talk again, suggesting his condition had improved.


ALSO READ: Background of Rushdie attacker sheds light on Khomeini sympathizers in US


The attack was met with shock and outrage from much of the world, along with tributes and praise for the award-winning author who for more than 30 years has faced death threats for “The Satanic Verses.”
Authors, activists and government officials cited Rushdie’s courage and longtime advocacy of free speech despite the risks to his own safety. Writer and longtime friend Ian McEwan called Rushdie “an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists across the world,” and actor-author Kal Penn cited him as a role model “for an entire generation of artists, especially many of us in the South Asian diaspora toward whom he’s shown incredible warmth.”
President Joe Biden said Saturday in a statement that he and first lady Jill Biden were “shocked and saddened” by the attack.
“Salman Rushdie — with his insight into humanity, with his unmatched sense for story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced — stands for essential, universal ideals,” the statement read. “Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society.”
Rushdie, a native of India who has since lived in Britain and the US, is known for his surreal and satirical prose style, beginning with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” in which he sharply criticized India’s then-prime minister, Indira Gandhi.
“The Satanic Verses” drew death threats after it was published in 1988, with many Muslims regarding as blasphemy a dream sequence based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections. Rushdie’s book had already been banned and burned in India, Pakistan and elsewhere before Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.
Khomeini died that same year, but the fatwa remains in effect. Iran’s current supreme leader, Khamenei, never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.
Investigators were working to determine whether the assailant, born a decade after “The Satanic Verses” was published, acted alone.
District Attorney Schmidt alluded to the fatwa as a potential motive in arguing against bail.
“Even if this court were to set a million dollars bail, we stand a risk that bail could be met,” Schmidt said.
“His resources don’t matter to me. We understand that the agenda that was carried out yesterday is something that was adopted and it’s sanctioned by larger groups and organizations well beyond the jurisdictional borders of Chautauqua County,” the prosecutor said.
Barone, the public defender, said after the hearing that Matar has been communicating openly with him and that he would spend the coming weeks trying to learn about his client, including whether he has psychological or addiction issues.
Matar is from Fairview, New Jersey. Rosaria Calabrese, manager of the State of Fitness Boxing Club, a small, tightly knit gym in nearby North Bergen, said Matar joined April 11 and participated in about 27 group sessions for beginners looking to improve their fitness before emailing her several days ago to say he wanted to cancel his membership because “he wouldn’t be coming back for a while.”
Gym owner Desmond Boyle said he saw “nothing violent” about Matar, describing him as polite and quiet, yet someone who always looked “tremendously sad.” He said Matar resisted attempts by him and others to welcome and engage him.
“He had this look every time he came in. It looked like it was the worst day of his life,” Boyle said.
Matar was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, the mayor of the village, Ali Tehfe, told The Associated Press.
Flags are visible across the village of Iran-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah and portraits of leader Hassan Nasrallah, Khamenei, Khomeini and slain Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Journalists visiting Yaroun on Saturday were asked to leave. Hezbollah spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.
Iran’s theocratic government and its state-run media assigned no motive for the attack. In Tehran, some Iranians interviewed by the AP praised the attack on an author they believe tarnished the Islamic faith, while others worried it would further isolate their country.
An AP reporter witnessed the attacker stab or punch Rushdie about 10 or 15 times. Dr. Martin Haskell, a physician who was among those who rushed to help, described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but recoverable.”
Event moderator Henry Reese, 73, suffered a facial injury and was treated and released from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie had planned to discuss the United States as a refuge for writers and other artists in exile.
A state trooper and a county sheriff’s deputy were assigned to Rushdie’s lecture, and state police said the trooper made the arrest. But afterward some longtime visitors to the center questioned why there wasn’t tighter security given the threats against Rushdie and a bounty of more than $3 million on his head.
News about the stabbing has led to renewed interest in “The Satanic Verses,” which topped best seller lists after the fatwa was issued in 1989. As of Saturday afternoon, the novel ranked No. 13 on Amazon.com.
The book’s publication in 1988 sparked often-violent protests around the Muslim world against Rushdie, who was born to a Muslim family and has long identified as a nonbeliever, once calling himself “a hard-line atheist.”
At least 45 people were killed in riots, including 12 in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.
The death threats and bounty led Rushdie to go into hiding under a British government protection program, which included an around-the-clock armed guard. After nine years of seclusion, Rushdie cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism overall.
In 2012 he published a memoir about the fatwa titled “Joseph Anton,” the pseudonym Rushdie used while in hiding.
He said during a New York talk that year that terrorism was really the art of fear: “The only way you can defeat it is by deciding not to be afraid.”
 


India bans Islamic organization PFI for five years

Indian police men stand guard in Srinagar. (AP)
Indian police men stand guard in Srinagar. (AP)
Updated 28 September 2022

India bans Islamic organization PFI for five years

Indian police men stand guard in Srinagar. (AP)

NEW DELHI: Indian authorities on Wednesday declared the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its affiliates an “unlawful association” with immediate effect, banning it for five years.
This comes after the authorities detained scores of members of the Islamic organization on Tuesday and earlier in the month, accusing them of violence and anti-national activities.

 


UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
Updated 28 September 2022

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
  • UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity

UNITED NATIONS: A senior UN official warned Tuesday of a possible internal conflict and worsening poverty in Afghanistan if the Taliban don’t respond quickly to the needs of all elements of society, saying their crackdown on the rights of girls and women signals indifference to over 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population and a willingness to risk international isolation.
Markus Potzel, the UN deputy representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council some of the Taliban’s “claimed and acknowledged achievements” are also eroding.
He pointed to a steady rise in armed clashes, criminal activity and high profile terrorist attacks especially by the Islamic State extremist group which demonstrated in recent months that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attack foreign embassies, fire rockets against Afghanistan’s neighbors — and maintain their longstanding campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities.
Potzel said the economic situation also “remains tenuous,” with food security worsening and winter approaching.
The UN humanitarian appeal for $4.4 billion has only received $1.9 billion which is “alarming,” he said, urging donors to immediately provide $614 million to support winter preparations and an additional $154 million to preposition essential supplies before places get cut off by winter weather.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity. And “we worry” that the figures will soon become worse because winter weather will send already high fuel and food prices skyrocketing, he said.
While there have been some positive developments in Afghanistan in recent months, Potzel said, they have been too few, too slow, “and are outweighed by the negatives, “in particular, the ongoing ban on secondary education for girls — unique in the world — and growing restrictions on women’s rights.”
When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were subject to overwhelming restrictions — no education, no participation in public life, and women were required to wear the all-encompassing burqa.
Following the Taliban ouster by US forces in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, and for the next 20 years, Afghan girls were not only enrolled in school but universities, and many women became doctors, lawyers, judges, members of parliament and owners of businesses, traveling without face coverings.
After the Taliban overran the capital on Aug. 15, 2021 as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, they promised a more moderate form of Islamic rule including allowing women to continue their education and work outside the home.
They initially announced no dress code though they also vowed to impose Sharia, or Islamic law. But Taliban hard-liners have since turned back the clock to their previous harsh rule, confirming the worst fears of human rights activists and further complicating Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community.
Potzel said that in UN discussions with Taliban officials, leaders state that the decision has been made and is maintained by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, “defended by hard-liners around him, but questioned by most of the rest of the movement who are either unable or unwilling to change the trajectory.”
The result, he said, is that women and girls are relegated to their home, deprived of their rights, and “Afghanistan as a whole is denied the benefit of the significant contributions that women and girls have to offer.”
“If the Taliban do not respond to the needs of all elements of Afghan society and constructively engage within the very limited window of opportunity with the international community, it is unclear what would come next,” Potzel said.
“Further fragmentation, isolation, poverty, and internal conflict are scenarios, leading to potential mass migration and a domestic environment conducive to terrorist organizations, as well as greater misery for the Afghan population,” he said.


UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests

UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests
Updated 28 September 2022

UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests

UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests

WASHINGTON: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi not to use “disproportionate force” against protesters who took to the streets after the death of a young woman in morality police custody, his spokesman said Tuesday.
In a bilateral meeting last week during the UN General Assembly, Guterres “stressed to President Raisi the need to respect human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“We are increasingly concerned about reports of rising fatalities, including women and children, related to the protests,” Dujarric said in a statement.
He said Guterres “calls on the security forces to refrain from using unnecessary or disproportionate force and appeals to all to exercise utmost restraint to avoid further escalation.”
He also called for a “prompt, impartial and effective investigation” into the death of Mahsa Amini, the young woman who died in the custody of Iran’s morality police, sparking nationwide protests that have left at least dozens of people dead.
Raisi on Saturday labelled the protests “riots” and urged “decisive action against the opponents of the security and peace of the country and the people,” his office said.


Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000
Updated 28 September 2022

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000
  • Refugees are provided a path to permanent residency

SAN DIEGO: President Joe Biden on Tuesday kept the nation’s cap on refugee admissions at 125,000 for the 2023 budget year, despite pressure from advocates to raise it even higher to meet the need after falling far short of that target this year.
Refugees advocates have been pushing the Biden administration to do more to restore the US Refugee Admissions Program. The more than four-decade-old program suffered deep cuts under the Trump administration, which slashed admissions to a record low of 15,000.
Biden raised the cap to four times that amount, but so far fewer than 20,000 refugees have been admitted this budget year, which ends Sept. 30.
That number excludes the roughly 180,000 Ukrainians and Afghans who came to the United States via a legal process called humanitarian parole that got them into the country more quickly than the traditional refugee program but only allows for stays of up to two years.
Refugees are provided a path to permanent residency. Their admissions are determined by the president each year, and federal funding for resettlement agencies is based on the number of people they resettle in a given year.
The 125,000 target “is justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest,” Biden stated in his presidential determination. Historically, the average has been 95,000 under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Biden earmarked 5,000 more slots for people from Europe and Central Asia for the 2023 budget year, making room to accommodate those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
The largest number of slots — 40,000 — was set aside for refugees from Africa, followed by 35,000 from South Asia and 15,000 each from East Asia, Europe and Latin America.
Biden has struggled to restore the US Refugee Program despite raising the numbers and removing bureaucratic barriers put in place by his predecessor, which slowed the process and led to a massive backlog.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the Biden administration must act now to improve the refugee program with the United Nations reporting a record 100 million people being displaced from their homes.
“It must ramp up and streamline overseas processing of refugee applications if this lifesaving program is to remain relevant amid an unprecedented global displacement crisis,” she said in a statement.


UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders
Updated 28 September 2022

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders
  • In spite of Zelensky’s appeals, there is no chance of the Security Council — where Russia holds a veto — reaching a united stance on the annexation move

UNITED NATIONS, US: The UN reaffirmed its commitment to Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” on Tuesday, as pro-Moscow authorities in several parts of the war-torn nation claimed victory in annexation votes condemned internationally as a sham.
“The United Nations remains fully committed to the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders,” Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo told a meeting of the UN Security Council.
Addressing the meeting by video link, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once more denounced the ballots hastily organized in Russian-occupied regions — Donetsk and Lugansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.
“There’s a very cynical attempt to force the male population in occupied territory of Ukraine to mobilize into the Russian army, in order to send them to fight against their own homelands,” he charged.
Taking aim at Russian leader Vladmir Putin, Zelensky warned that “annexation is the kind of move that puts him alone against the whole of humanity.”
“A clear signal is now needed from every country in the world,” he said.
In spite of Zelensky’s appeals, there is no chance of the Security Council — where Russia holds a veto — reaching a united stance on the annexation move.
Nevertheless, the United States intends to submit a resolution condemning the “sham referenda,” urging member states “not to recognize any altered status of Ukraine and obligating Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine,” said the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
China’s statements and vote on the resolution will be monitored closely for signals of any changes in its stance toward Russia, which it has yet to condemn over its invasion of Ukraine.
“Our position and proposition on how to view and handle the Ukraine issue is consistent and clear,” said Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun on Tuesday.
“That is, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected.”
In February, just after Moscow’s forces invaded, China chose to abstain on a resolution deploring the action, which was nonetheless vetoed by Russia.
Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s UN ambassador, made clear that Russia would wield its veto again, criticizing the move as “temper tantrums of the Western delegations.”
“The referendums were conducted exclusively transparently, with upholding of all the electoral norms,” Nebenzia argued, adding that the West’s only aim was to “weaken and bleed dry Russia as much as possible.”