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Schmidt wants names of witnesses withheld in Rushdie stabbing case

OBSERVER Photo by Gregory Bacon Hadi Matar talks to members of his legal team Wednesday in Chautauqua County Court.

MAYVILLE – Could a bounty be in place against those who testify in the case involving the a New Jersey man who tried to kill famed author Salman Rushdie? Because the possibility exists, the prosecution wants their names to be withheld from the defender until the trial gets closer.

On Wednesday, Hadi Matar was back in court for the alleged stabbing of Rushdie on Aug. 12 during a lecture at Chautauqua Institution.

During the court appearance, District Attorney Jason Schmidt requested a protection order be in place for witnesses and also requested an additional 70 days to present evidence to the defense.

Schmidt noted in his arguments that Matar may have been motivated by a $3 million bounty for anyone who kills Rushdie. A fatwa, or edict, was issued by Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but the Iranian government has not said the bounty was lifted. It was issued due to Rushdie writing the controversial book “The Satanic Verses,” which has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous.

Matar’s attorney, Public Defender Nathaniel Barone, opposed Schmidt’s request. “There’s nothing that’s been provided to us to show that the Iranian government is actively supporting the attack on any supporters of Mr. Rushdie who may come forward to testify,” he said.

Foley asked Schmidt if he believes there is a real potential threat to witnesses.

“Yes,” Schmidt replied.

Foley called for a hearing on Friday and told Schmidt he needs to show evidence to that end. He also said he may permit the prosecution to speak privately without the public or the defense team in the courtroom.

On Friday, Foley will also decide on Schmidt’s request for an additional time to provide evidence to the defense.

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