Hadi Matar (right), 24, appears during an August 18 arraignment hearing in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, New York, the United States [Joshua Bessex/AP Photo]

Hadi Matar, accused of stabbing author Salman Rushdie last week, pleads not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges.

The man accused of attacking acclaimed author Salman Rushdie last week in New York state has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges.

Hadi Matar, the 24-year-old accused of repeatedly stabbing Rushdie on stage during a US literary event, entered the not guilty plea on Thursday during an arraignment hearing in upstate New York.

A grand jury indicted him earlier in the day on one count of second-degree attempted murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, and one count of second-degree assault.

Dressed in a black-and-white jail uniform, Matar stayed quiet during the hearing while his lawyer unsuccessfully tried to persuade the judge that he should be released while he awaited trial. The judge ordered that Matar remain detained without bail.

Last Friday’s attack against Rushdie, the 75-year-old author of books such as The Satanic Verses and an outspoken advocate of freedom of expression, at an event in Chautauqua, New York, spurred shock and condemnation around the world.

Rushdie was hospitalised, but his agent has said that his condition is improving and he is in good spirits.

Rushdie has faced more than 30 years of threats against his life, after The Satanic Verses was published in the late 1980s.

Many Muslims around the world regard the book as blasphemous, and in 1989 Iran’s then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a religious edict calling for Rushdie’s death, forcing the author to spend more than a decade in hiding.

Iran’s government has sought to distance itself from the edict, and in 1998 the reformist President Mohammad Khatami said the threat was finished.

However, Khomeini’s successor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said as recently as 2019 that the order was “irrevocable” and bounties have been issued for Rushdie.

Matar told the New York Post on Wednesday that he had admiration for Khomeini, but did not confirm that the edict was what motivated him to attack Rushdie. Matar said he had only read a “couple of pages” of The Satanic Verses but had seen YouTube videos of Rushdie speaking.

“I don’t like him very much,” Matar said of Rushdie in the interview with the Post. “He’s someone who attacked Islam; he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.”

Iran’s government has denied involvement in the attack but blamed Rushdie for creating “public indignation” with blasphemous material.

Other world leaders have condemned the stabbing as a vicious assault on freedom of expression and lambasted Iran for blaming the victim.

Police have said that they believe Matar acted alone. Matar has said he took a bus to Buffalo and then used a rideshare app to complete the journey to the Chautauqua Institution, a retreat about 19km (12 miles) from Lake Erie, and purchased a pass to attend Rushdie’s lecture.

Witnesses have pointed out that there were no clear security checks, and onlookers watched with horror as Matar allegedly stabbed Rushdie 10 times before being subdued by members of the audience and arrested by New York State Police.

Rushdie was hospitalised with serious injuries, including nerve damage in his arm, wounds to his liver, and the probable loss of an eye, according to his agent Andrew Wylie.

Rushdie’s family said that they were “extremely relieved” after he was taken off of a ventilator last weekend and Wylie has said the author is on the “road to recovery”.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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