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Crime

Quebec mosque disappointed with ruling allowing killer to seek parole after 25 years

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QUEBEC — Families of the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooter say they fear Friday’s Supreme Court ruling means the 17 children who lost a father could one day meet the killer in the streets of Quebec’s capital.

Canada’s high court ruled that the killer who went on a deadly shooting spree at a Quebec City mosque in 2017 can apply for parole after 25 years behind bars. The court declared unconstitutional a 2011 Criminal Code provision that allowed a judge, in the event of multiple murders, to impose a life sentence and parole ineligibility periods of 25 years to be served consecutively for each murder.

Mohamed Labidi, president of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, where the killer shot dead six men on Jan. 29, 2017, said families of the victims expressed real concern the killer would be a free man within a relatively short period of time.

“Maybe parole (officials) will delay this release a bit (and) will take that into account, but that’s our real fear,” Labidi told a news conference.

The Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec said in a statement Friday the high court decision did not give due consideration to “the atrocity and scourge of multiple murders” or to the hateful, Islamophobic, racist nature of the crime.

Members of the mosque said they were disappointed with the decision from the court, but they added it allows them to close the legal chapter and focus on the future.

“Philosophically, yes, we would like to turn the page and I, personally as an individual, want to turn the page,” mosque co-founder Boufeldja Benabdallah told reporters. “I have been hurt enough and I have cried enough.”

Benabdallah said the Supreme Court decision “breaks the balance” between a criminal’s chance at reintegrating society and his or her victims’ sense of justice.

“We take into account the rehabilitation of an individual … and to not give a punishment that is inadmissible, unusual or cruel,” Benabdallah said. “But at the same time, the families who have been affected must also feel that they have won their case, that the killer is being punished for his crimes.”

Alexandre Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Five others were seriously injured in the January 2017 attack, including one man who was left paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. The six men who were shot dead left behind 17 children.

A trial judge found the 2011 parole ineligibility provision unconstitutional but did not declare it invalid, ultimately ruling Bissonnette must wait 40 years before applying for parole.

Quebec’s Court of Appeal said the trial judge erred in making the ineligibility period 40 years and that the court must revert to the law as it stood before 2011, resulting in a total waiting period for Bissonnette of 25 years. The Crown appealed that decision.

The Supreme Court said the 2011 law violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that in order to ensure respect for the inherent dignity of every individual, the Charter requires Parliament to leave a door open for rehabilitation, even in cases where this objective is of secondary importance.

One of Bissonnette’s lawyers, Charles-Olivier Gosselin, said his client was relieved by the ruling.

“It’s a second chance, a second life that Mr. Bissonnette can hope for to demonstrate to society that he can be an asset, that he can work on himself, move on and look forward,” Gosselin said at the courthouse in Quebec City.

Daniel Bélanger, the chief prosecutor for Quebec City, said he would not comment on the decision out of deference to the high court, but he spoke of the victims and their families.

“This day marks for them the end of a long judicial process, but we are aware that it is not the end of their grieving and healing process,” Bélanger said, reading from a prepared statement.

He said the Crown and police in Quebec City were diligent in their work all the way to the Supreme Court, demonstrating the capacity for the judicial system to conclude complex cases in the public’s interest.

Bélanger reminded reporters in Quebec City that Bissonnette received a life sentence and it will be up to the parole board to decide whether he is released, which now won’t come before 2042. The killer, he said, would be subject to strict conditions and surveillance by a parole officer for the rest of his life in the event he is freed from prison.

“Although this case has become a constitutional debate regarding the provisions of the Criminal Code, we need to remember, in closure, the six people murdered and the other victims of this attack on Jan. 29, 2017,” Bélanger said.

“Our thoughts are now with the victims and their families and the community affected by this crime that has marked the collective consciousness. We praise their courage, their resilience and their dignity in this moment.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

— By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal, with files from Caroline Plante in Quebec City.

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Crime

Salman Rushdie ‘on the road to recovery,’ agent says

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MAYVILLE, N.Y. (AP) — Salman Rushdie is “on the road to recovery,” his agent confirmed Sunday, two days after the author of “The Satanic Verses” suffered serious injuries in a stabbing at a lecture in upstate New York.

The announcement followed news that the lauded writer was removed from a ventilator Saturday and able to talk and joke. Literary agent Andrew Wylie cautioned that although Rushdie’s “condition is headed in the right direction,” his recovery would be a long process. Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, Wylie had previously said, and was likely to lose the injured eye.

“Though his life changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty & defiant sense of humour remains intact,” Rushdie’s son Zafar Rushdie said in a Sunday statement that stressed the author remained in critical condition. The statement on behalf of the family also expressed gratitude for the “audience members who bravely leapt to his defence,” as well as police, doctors and “the outpouring of love and support from around the world.”

Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty Saturday to attempted murder and assault charges in what a prosecutor called “a targeted, unprovoked, preplanned attack” at the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education and retreat center.

The attack was met with global shock and outrage, along with praise for the man who, for more than three decades, has weathered death threats and a $3 million bounty on his head for “The Satanic Verses.” Rushdie even spent nine years in hiding under a British government protection program.

Authors, activists and government officials cited Rushdie’s bravery and longtime championing of free speech in the face of such intimidation. Writer and longtime friend Ian McEwan labeled Rushdie “an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists” and actor-author Kal Penn called him a role model “for an entire generation of artists, especially many of us in the South Asian diaspora.”

“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,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a Saturday statement. “Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear.”

Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim family and has lived in Britain and the U.S., is known for his surreal and satirical prose, beginning with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” in which he sharply criticized India’s then-prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

Infused with magical realism, 1988’s “The Satanic Verses” drew ire from some Muslims who regarded elements of the novel as blasphemy.

They believed Rushdie insulted the Prophet Muhammad by naming a character Mahound, a medieval corruption of “Muhammad.” The character was a prophet in a city called Jahilia, which in Arabic refers to the time before the advent of Islam on the Arabian Peninsula. Another sequence has prostitutes that share names with some of Muhammad’s nine wives. The novel also implies that Muhammad, not Allah, may have been the Quran’s real author.

The book had already been banned and burned in India, Pakistan and elsewhere when Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989. Khomeini died that same year, but the fatwa remains in effect — though Iran, in recent years, hadn’t focused on Rushdie.

Iran’s state-run newspaper, Iran Daily, praised the attack as an “implementation of divine decree” Sunday. Another hardline newspaper, Kayhan, termed it “divine revenge” that would partially calm the anger of Muslims.

Investigators were trying to determine whether the suspect, born nearly a decade after the novel’s publication, acted alone. A prosecutor alluded to the standing fatwa as a potential motive in arguing against bail.

“His resources don’t matter to me. We understand that the agenda that was carried out yesterday is something that was adopted and it’s sanctioned by larger groups and organizations well beyond the jurisdictional borders of Chautauqua County,” District Attorney Jason Schmidt said.

Schmidt said Matar got an advance pass to the event where the author was speaking and arrived a day early bearing a fake ID. The judge ordered Matar held without bail.

Public defender Nathaniel Barone complained that authorities had taken too long to get Matar in front of a judge while leaving him “hooked up to a bench at the state police barracks” and stressed that Matar had the right to presumed innocence.

Barone said after the hearing that Matar has been communicating openly with him and that he would spend the coming weeks trying to learn about his client, including whether he has psychological or addiction issues.

Matar was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, village mayor Ali Tehfe told The Associated Press. Flags of the Iran-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah, along with portraits of Hezbollah and Iranian leaders, were visible across Yaroun before journalists visiting Saturday were asked to leave.

Hezbollah spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.

In Tehran, some Iranians interviewed by the AP praised the attack on an author they believe tarnished the Islamic faith, while others worried it would further isolate their country.

Event moderator Henry Reese, 73, suffered a facial injury and was released from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie had planned to discuss the United States as a refuge for artists in exile.

A state trooper and a county sheriff’s deputy were assigned to Rushdie’s lecture, and police said the trooper made the arrest. But afterward, some longtime visitors to the bucolic vacation colony questioned why there wasn’t tighter security given the history of threats against Rushdie.

On Friday, an AP reporter witnessed the attacker stab or punch Rushdie about 10 or 15 times.

News about the stabbing has led to renewed interest in “The Satanic Verses,” which topped bestseller lists after the fatwa was issued in 1989. As of Sunday morning, the novel ranked No. 11 on Amazon.com’s list.

One of Rushdie’s ex-wives, the author and television host Padma Lakshmi, tweeted Sunday that she was “relieved” by Rushdie’s prognosis.

“Worried and wordless, can finally exhale,” she wrote. “Now hoping for swift healing.”

___

Italie reported from New York. Associated Press journalists Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, and Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut contributed to this report.

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Crime

Prosecutor: Stab attack on Salman Rushdie was ‘preplanned’

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By Carolyn Thompson And Hillel Italie in Mayville

MAYVILLE, N.Y. (AP) — The man accused in the stabbing attackon Salman Rushdie pleaded not guilty Saturday to attempted murder and assault charges in what a prosecutor called a “preplanned” crime, as the renowned author of “The Satanic Verses” remained hospitalized with serious injuries.

An attorney for Hadi Matar entered the plea on his behalf during an arraignment in western New York. The suspect appeared in court wearing a black and white jumpsuit and a white face mask, with his hands cuffed in front of him.

A judge ordered him held without bail after District Attorney Jason Schmidt told her Matar took steps to purposely put himself in position to harm Rushdie, getting an advance pass to the event where the author was speaking and arriving a day early bearing a fake ID.

“This was a targeted, unprovoked, preplanned attack on Mr. Rushdie,” Schmidt said.

Public defender Nathaniel Barone complained that authorities had taken too long to get Matar in front of a judge while leaving him “hooked up to a bench at the state police barracks.”

“He has that constitutional right of presumed innocence,” Barone added.

Matar, 24, is accused of attacking Rushdie on Friday as the author was being introduced at a lecture at the Chautauqua Institute, a nonprofit education and retreat center.

Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, and was on a ventilator and unable to speak, his agent Andrew Wylie said Friday evening. Rushdie was likely to lose the injured eye.

The attack was met with shock and outrage from much of the world, along with tributes and praise for the award-winning author who for more than 30 years has faced death threats for “The Satanic Verses.”

Authors, activists and government officials cited Rushdie’s courage and longtime advocacy of free speech despite the risks to his own safety. Writer and longtime friend Ian McEwan called Rushdie “an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists across the world,” and actor-author Kal Penn cited him as a role model “for an entire generation of artists, especially many of us in the South Asian diaspora toward whom he’s shown incredible warmth.”

President Joe Biden said Saturday in a statement that he and first lady Jill Biden were “shocked and saddened” by the attack.

“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,” the statement read. “Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society.”

Rushdie, a native of India who has since lived in Britain and the U.S., is known for his surreal and satirical prose style, beginning with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” in which he sharply criticized India’s then-prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

“The Satanic Verses” drew death threats after it was published in 1988, with many Muslims regarding as blasphemy a dream sequence based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections. Rushdie’s book had already been banned and burned in India, Pakistan and elsewhere before Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.

Khomeini died that same year, but the fatwa remains in effect. Iran’s current supreme leader, Khamenei, never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.

Investigators were working to determine whether the assailant, born a decade after “The Satanic Verses” was published, acted alone.

District Attorney Schmidt alluded to the fatwa as a potential motive in arguing against bail.

“Even if this court were to set a million dollars bail, we stand a risk that bail could be met,” Schmidt said.

“His resources don’t matter to me. We understand that the agenda that was carried out yesterday is something that was adopted and it’s sanctioned by larger groups and organizations well beyond the jurisdictional borders of Chautauqua County,” the prosecutor said.

Barone, the public defender, said after the hearing that Matar has been communicating openly with him and that he would spend the coming weeks trying to learn about his client, including whether he has psychological or addiction issues.

Matar is from Fairview, New Jersey. Rosaria Calabrese, manager of the State of Fitness Boxing Club, a small, tightly knit gym in nearby North Bergen, said Matar joined April 11 and participated in about 27 group sessions for beginners looking to improve their fitness before emailing her several days ago to say he wanted to cancel his membership because “he wouldn’t be coming back for a while.”

Gym owner Desmond Boyle said he saw “nothing violent” about Matar, describing him as polite and quiet, yet someone who always looked “tremendously sad.” He said Matar resisted attempts by him and others to welcome and engage him.

“He had this look every time he came in. It looked like it was the worst day of his life,” Boyle said.

Matar was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, the mayor of the village, Ali Tehfe, told The Associated Press.

Flags are visible across the village of Iran-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah and portraits of leader Hassan Nasrallah, Khamenei, Khomeini and slain Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Journalists visiting Yaroun on Saturday were asked to leave. Hezbollah spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.

Iran’s theocratic government and its state-run media assigned no motive for the attack. In Tehran, some Iranians interviewed by the AP praised the attack on an author they believe tarnished the Islamic faith, while others worried it would further isolate their country.

An AP reporter witnessed the attacker stab or punch Rushdie about 10 or 15 times. Dr. Martin Haskell, a physician who was among those who rushed to help, described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but recoverable.”

Event moderator Henry Reese, 73, suffered a facial injury and was treated and released from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie had planned to discuss the United States as a refuge for writers and other artists in exile.

A state trooper and a county sheriff’s deputy were assigned to Rushdie’s lecture, and state police said the trooper made the arrest. But afterward some longtime visitors to the center questioned why there wasn’t tighter security given the threats against Rushdie and a bounty of more than $3 million on his head.

News about the stabbing has led to renewed interest in “The Satanic Verses,” which topped best seller lists after the fatwa was issued in 1989. As of Saturday afternoon, the novel ranked No. 13 on Amazon.com.

The book’s publication in 1988 sparked often-violent protests around the Muslim world against Rushdie, who was born to a Muslim family and has long identified as a nonbeliever, once calling himself “a hardline atheist.”

At least 45 people were killed in riots, including 12 in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.

The death threats and bounty led Rushdie to go into hiding under a British government protection program, which included an around-the-clock armed guard. After nine years of seclusion, Rushdie cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism overall.

In 2012 he published a memoir about the fatwa titled “Joseph Anton,” the pseudonym Rushdie used while in hiding.

He said during a New York talk that year that terrorism was really the art of fear: “The only way you can defeat it is by deciding not to be afraid.”

___

Italie reported from New York. Associated Press journalist Kareem Chehayeb contributed to this report from Beirut.

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