Rushdie attack suspect pleads not guilty to attempted murder

AFP/ CHARLY TRIBALLEAU

The man accused of stabbing Salman Rushdie at a literary event pleaded not guilty to attempted murder charges on Saturday, as the severely injured author appeared to show signs of improvement in hospital.

Hadi Matar, 24, was arraigned in court in New York state, with prosecutors outlining how Rushdie had been stabbed approximately 10 times in what they described as a planned, premeditated assault.

After the on-stage attack on Friday, Rushdie had been helicoptered to hospital and underwent emergency surgery.

His agent Andrew Wylie had said the writer was on a ventilator and in danger of losing an eye, but in an update on Saturday he told the New York Times that Rushdie had started to talk again, suggesting his condition had improved.

Author of "The Satanic Verses" and "Midnight's Children", Rushdie had lived in hiding for years after Iran's first supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered his killing.

President Joe Biden on Saturday called it a "vicious" attack and offered prayers for Rushdie's recovery.

"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. Truth. Courage. Resilience," Biden said in a statement.

Matar is being held without bail and has been formally charged with second-degree attempted murder and assault with a weapon. Police provided no information on his background or what might have motivated him.

Meanwhile Rushdie's agent said on Sunday the author is off a ventilator and his condition is improving.

"He's off the ventilator, so the road to recovery has begun,"  Andrew Wylie, wrote in an email to Reuters. "It will be long; the injuries are severe, but his condition is headed in the right direction."

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