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Woman held hostage during B.C. bank shooting experiencing roller-coaster of emotions

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By Hina Alam

Shelli Fryer was wide awake at 2:54 on Canada Day and hoped the stack of messages piling up in recent days could help her close her eyes.

The 59-year-old Langford, B.C., woman said she’s been having trouble sleeping since Tuesday when she was among those held hostage during a violent bank shooting in Saanich.

The messages pouring in since then, she said, have offered some of the comfort she’s sought and commended her bravery during the ordeal.

“There is just so much love I’m getting from all these strangers,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s overwhelming.”

Six police officers were shot and two male suspects were killed in the shootout with police on Tuesday outside the Bank of Montreal in Saanich.

Police have said multiple explosive devices were found in a vehicle linked to the two men, who have yet to be identified. Officers are still investigating the possibility of a third suspect.

Fryer has been mentally replaying Tuesday morning’s events ever since.

She pulled her blue Ford Bronco into the bank’s parking lot for an 11 a.m. appointment with the manager about a loan. Within a minute or two of sitting down in his glass-panelled office, Fryer said they heard a loud boom.

“The manager said ‘we’re being robbed’. He knew right away.”

The 17 women and five men in the branch that day all got on the grey floor immediately, Fryer said. She described the suspects as wearing all black including balaclavas, gloves, jackets, vests, body armour and pads covering the calves from the knee down.

One suspect came up to the bank manager and said “vault,” she recalled.

“He stared right at me twice. For 20 seconds,” she said. “But I couldn’t see his eyes. I couldn’t see his mouth. I couldn’t see any skin tone whatsoever.”

The manager tried to hand over the keys but the suspect pointed towards the vault and they walked off together, leaving Fryer in the room. She waited for the gunman to come back for her.

“I think he forgot about me,” she said.

Fryer got down on the floor and called the police. Her phone’s call log shows she dialed 911 at 11:04 a.m.

She whispered a description of the situation into the phone, fearing all the while she’d draw attention to herself by breaking the “eerie silence” that had descended on the branch, she said.

She left the phone on so the 911 operators could hear what was going on, turned down the volume so the suspects couldn’t hear if emergency personnel spoke and covered the phone with her long pink skirt so it wouldn’t be visible, she said.

For what “felt like an eternity,” she said there was “dead silence.”

Fryer said she felt little fear and experienced no dramatic moments as she hid behind a chair she doubted offered much protection.

“It was actually more like, ‘I think we’re gonna get out of this,'” she said. “I need to get the police though here. I’m just gonna let the police know. If the police get here, it will be OK.”

But then an “almighty hail of gunfire” rang out, she said, gasping at the remembered shock.

That’s when she ran and hid alone under a shelf in the manager’s office while others took shelter in a filing room.

Fryer said that while she felt the urge to panic with one half of her brain, the other half was reminding her to “just breathe.”

“‘The worst thing that’s going to  happen is, those shots will go right through the drywall and you’re going to be hit,'” she remembered thinking.

Fryer’s phone shows her call with 911, and the ordeal, lasted one hour, 26 minutes and five seconds.

While Fryer’s recollections of the attack are sharp, she said the rest of the day passed in a blur of police interviews, arrangements to retrieve her car and finally a meal of Asian food with her daughter.

The trauma of being held hostage comes in waves, she said. Fryer has spoken with police and victim services about how she feels, and she said she’s been told it will take time to process what she’s been through.

“It’s back and forth, you know? It’s like grief. You go through the whole stages, right? Sometimes you may never hit the last stage.”

But in the quiet moments, Fryer said she most often remembers seeing police walk through the bank door and hearing their concern for those trapped inside.

“The first words each and every officer said to us was, ‘I’m sorry this is happening to you.’ Even when they just came in from the gunfire,” she said. “… And much, much later we find out that six of their brothers-in-arms had been shot and injured.”

She feels “horrible” and “guilty” because she didn’t think about asking the officers whether any police had been injured, she said, though she and others inquired after the welfare of civilians.

“And each and every one of their energy and body language walking in and out of the crime scene did not give us any reason to even think to ask, ‘were any officers injured?'”

Saanich police Chief Const. Dean Duthie said three of the officers remain in hospital, including one in intensive care, while another will require more surgeries.

Fryer was born in Chicago and came to Canada when she was seven. Her experience with the police last week has made her feel “extra proud” to be Canadian, she said.

Since Tuesday when she started talking about her experience at the bank, Fryer said apart from strangers she’s also got messages from people whom she knew in another lifetime.

She got an email from her first roommate with whom she lived while working her first job after graduating high school when she was 18.

“We lived together for like eight years, and I was a bridesmaid at her wedding. I haven’t seen her since 1989. She reached out. Isn’t that funny?” she said.

“This is going to be life changing in many ways for me and I’m very grateful now because it could be very cool.”

Fryer has also been able to find levity — such as what to do with the outfit she was wearing on Tuesday at the bank – a long sleeve shirt, pink maxi skirt and pink high-heeled sandals.

“I’m going to throw it out,” she said. “I’ve had it for so long anyway. Or I should frame it. I really liked it too, though.”

She even plans to return to the bank, whose employees she said showed incredible professionalism under duress and whose manager she described as unflappable.

“I have to finish my appointment,” she said with a laugh. “I sat down for two minutes. We got interrupted.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022.

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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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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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