Hadi Matar, who is accused of repeatedly stabbing Sir Salman Rushdie on Friday, turned into a religious zealot after a month-long trip to Lebanon, his mother has revealed.
In an exclusive interview with MailOnline, Silvana Fardos said her outgoing American-raised son became moody and introverted after a visit to see his father in 2018.
“I expected him to come back motivated, finish school, get his degree and a job,” she told the publication.
“But instead he locked himself in the basement. He had changed a lot, he didn’t say anything to me or his sisters for months.”
Fardos said her son locked himself in the basement of the family’s New Jersey home, barring her from entering.
“Once he argued with me and asked why I encouraged him to get an education instead of focusing on religion. He was angry that I did not introduce him to Islam from a young age, she said.
Matar is also believed to have had contact with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Vice World News reported.
A Middle Eastern intelligence official told the outlet that it was “clear” that Matar had been in direct contact with “people either directly involved in or alongside the Quds Force” via social media.
However, the extent of involvement in the attack remained unclear, the source added.
Fardos described her son as very quiet, and expressed disbelief that he was capable of carrying out such an attack. “As I told the FBI, I’m not going to bother talking to him again. He is responsible for his actions,” she added.
The 24-year-old appeared in court on Saturday, where he pleaded guilty to the charges of attempted murder and assault.
Meanwhile, Sir Salman’s son, Zafar, said the author’s “usual wacky and defiant sense of humor remains intact” despite suffering from life-changing injuries.
In a statement, Rushdie confirmed that his father, who was attacked as he prepared to give a lecture in New York state on Friday, has been taken off the ventilator.
The writer, who remains in a critical condition, was able to say a few words, Rushdie added.
He also paid tribute to members of the public who “bravely jumped to his defense and administered first aid”.
Rushdie’s update came hours after Andrew Wylie, Sir Salman’s agent, confirmed earlier reports that Sir Salman’s condition was improving.
“He’s off the ventilator, so the road to recovery has begun,” Wylie told Reuters.
“It will be a long time; The injuries are serious, but his condition is heading in the right direction.”
Sir Salman was stabbed three times in the neck and four times in the abdomen. He also suffered stab wounds to his chest and right eye and a wound to his right thigh, prosecutors said.
On Saturday, fellow writer Aatish Taseer tweeted that Sir Salman was talking and joking.
Speaking on CNN, Henry Reese, moderator of the event who was on stage when Sir Salman was attacked, said the attacker was referring to the fatwa on the author but was difficult to understand.
“It looked like some kind of bad joke in some sense of reality, and there was blood behind him that became real.”
Mr Reese, who was wearing a bandage over the black eye he suffered during the attack, said it took several moments to comprehend what had happened.
The event he hosted on behalf of the “City of Asylum” was meant to support other writers, with fewer resources than Sir Salman, who were under threat.
“And it’s the grim kind of irony — or maybe the intent — to not just attack his body, but to attack everything he represented.”
The alleged assailant, Hadi Matar (24), was wrestled to the ground by staff and other members of the public before being taken into custody.
Matar meets in court
He appeared in court on Saturday where he pleaded not guilty to the charges of attempted murder and assault.
Nathaniel Barone, a public defender, said Matar had been very cooperative and communicated openly with him.
Matar was born in the United States to Lebanese parents who emigrated from Yaroun in the south of the country.
Flags of the Iran-backed militant group, Hezbollah, were visible in the city along with portraits of political leader Hassan Nasrallah, Ali Khamenei, the current supreme leader of Iran, and Qassem Soleimani, the slain Iranian general.
Matar’s father, who has returned to Lebanon, locked himself in his home in Yaroun and refused to comment on the incident.
In the US, Matar lived in New Jersey, and visited a boxing gym in North Bergen, where the members described him as quiet.
Event criticized for security measures
Sir Salman has lived under a fatwa since 1989, imposed by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, following the publication of his book The Satanic Verses.
But in a recent interview with a German magazine, Sir Salman said the fatwa was a long time ago and his life was “relatively normal”.
The Chautauqua institution, which hosted the event, has faced criticism for not implementing security measures, such as metal detectors, as a precaution.
According to CNN, they had decided not to do so because they feared it would create a divide between the speakers and the audience.
However, the institution defended the arrangements.
“We have worked with security consultants, local law enforcement, the New York State Police and the FBI, and have implemented many of their best recommendations,” a spokesman said.
“We also regularly talk about security procedures with colleagues at festivals, lecture series and universities and will continue to have these conversations to ensure we are following best practice.”