THE NEW YORK TIMES – Hadi Matar he resented having to look for sub-jobs. At age 24, he worked in a small department store, made clumsy attempts at boxing, and became increasingly focused on religion. Now, after trying to stab writer Salman Rushdie to death, Matar has lost even his mother’s support.
“My son is done for me,” Silvana Fardos said in a brief interview, denying Matar, who repeatedly stabbed Salman Rushdie in a one-day attack at an intellectual retreat in western New York.
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This week, a portrait of Matar’s personality as a troubled recluse began to emerge. The mother says she doesn’t want to talk to him since he was arrested. O FBI, who is leading the investigation, did not reveal any clear motive for the attack. Iran’s Foreign Ministry this week blamed Salman Rushdie himself and denied any role in the attack.
But as national and international news crews continued to hover outside Silvana’s home in northern New Jersey on Tuesday, she confirmed that her son has returned from a 2018 trip to Middle East a changed man – reclusive and increasingly focused on his role as a follower of Islam.
“I have nothing to say to him,” Fardos said Monday as he walked briskly toward his two-story brick home in Fairview, asking for privacy, his face shielded by a mask, glasses and hat.
Silvana told The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, in an interview that she confirmed on Tuesday that he had gone months without speaking to her or her siblings. He blamed her for encouraging him to focus on academic studies instead of religious studies.
In New Jersey, where Silvana and her three children lived for several years after moving from Californiaopinions on Matar were formed well before last week.
Acquaintances and relatives described a man who preferred to remain on the fringes of everyday life.
“He is the embodiment of the cliché of the lonely man,” said Desmond Boyle, who owns a small garage-style gym where Matar was learning to box.
Matar worked at a Marshalls clothing store before his arrest, a company official said.
Jorge Diaz said he often attended the same boxing classes as Matar at the State of Fitness Boxing Club, a gym in North Bergen, about two miles from Matar’s home. “Always an isolated guy,” said Diaz, 34. “Always alone – very quiet.”
Unlike most beginning students, he arrived in April prepared to enroll immediately, without taking a demo class like most students do, said club manager Rosaria Calabrese.
Polite and reserved, he was almost entirely isolated, rarely speaking, said several students and instructors.
Boyle said he had tried to face Matar in the ring at least twice, an effort that failed. Boyle, a firefighter, said decades as a recovering alcoholic have left him especially attuned to “working with those who need help.”
“It always felt like the saddest day of his life,” Boyle said in an interview, “but he arrived like this every day.” “You can tell he grew up quiet,” she added. “Maybe a little isolated. Never really fitting in.”
Matar had little boxing experience — “two left feet,” Boyle said — and made limited progress during the 27 sessions he participated in.
Three days before the attack, he had canceled his monthly subscription to State of Fitness — a $158 package that allowed unlimited classes and training time, Calabrese said.
“He said, ‘I can’t go back now,’” Rosaria said.
People who witnessed the stabbing in Chautauqua described the “brutal force of the attacker”. At the boxing gym, the man pictured in handcuffs after the attack appeared to have little in common with the thin, clumsy student they remembered.
“He didn’t seem aggressive because he didn’t know how to fight,” said Diaz, an amateur boxer who has been competing for about three years and tried to give Matar tips.
“There were a few times when I said, ‘Is this how you throw a punch? Is that how you do it?’, that’s the kind of guy he was.”
A childhood friend from California recalled a similar lack of aggression. “It’s completely out of character for him to do what he’s been accused of doing,” said Uriel Alberdin, 26.
Alberdin was 10 years old when he met Matar, then 8. The two became close friends during the younger boy’s regular visits to see his father, who lived in Bell, Calif., a town near Los Angeles, after separate from Matar’s mother.
“It doesn’t look like him,” said Alberdin, an architecture student who says he played video games with Matar and shared a love for comic book heroes Spider-Man and Superman.
“He was like a best friend to me,” Alberdin said. The two communicated about twice a year, mostly via social media, after Matar’s family moved to the East Coast.
“The conversation was never deep, and it never got awkward,” Alberdin said. “It was your basics – checking on your friend to see how he was doing.”
But the email Matar suddenly sent asking that his academy membership be canceled suggested that he was genuinely interested in the politics of a nation that United States designated as the sponsoring state of terrorism.
Rosaria, the gym’s owner, said she noticed the avatar in the email only after Matar’s arrest: Just to the left of his name is a circular image of a bearded cleric, the ayatollah Ali Khameneithe current Supreme Leader of Iran.
It was Khamenei’s predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who issued the fatwa, an Islamic decree, calling for Rushdie’s death after the publication of “The Satanic Verses.” The book provoked outrage among some Muslims for using the Prophet Muhammad as one of the characters.
Rushdie quickly became a worldwide symbol of free speech. The decree took the writer born in India and created in UK to live in hiding before moving to the United States, where he maintained an increasingly public life despite previous death threats.
Last Friday, he was due to speak at an intellectual retreat at an Institute in Chautauqua, near Buffalo, about the United States as a safe haven for exiled writers.
Prosecutors said Matar had traveled by bus to the bucolic gated complex of the Chautauqua Institution. Shortly after Rushdie sat down, Matar took the stage, prosecutors said, and began furiously stabbing the writer.
Witnesses realized moments later that the attacker was holding a knife, and managed to subdue him before he was arrested.
Matar, whose attorney, Nathaniel L. Barone II, has pleaded not guilty on his behalf, remains in prison. Barone, a public defender, said he expected a grand jury to consider the formal charges against his client in the coming days.
“In these situations where emotions are intense, feelings are intense, it’s important that the criminal justice system presents its best version,” Barone said Tuesday. “This is the opportunity for Mr. Killing receives all the benefits of our Constitution – a presumption of innocence, due process of law, a fair trial.”