The location where famed author Salman Rushdie — whose controversial work has sparked death threats — was stabbed Friday had rejected previous recommendations to tighten security measures, two sources told CNN.
Rushdie, 75, was stabbed at least twice on the podium of the Chautauqua Institute before giving a lecture, New York State Police said Friday. He was flown to a hospital in northwestern Pennsylvania and underwent surgery, a Pennsylvania police officer said.
Later in the day, Rushdie was put on a ventilator and unable to speak, his agent, Andrew Wylie, told The New York Times. He’ll probably lose an eye, Wylie said. “The nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged. The news is not good.”
A suspect was taken into custody shortly afterwards and authorities are working to determine the motive and charges, state police said.
After the attack, questions were raised about security measures — or lack thereof — at the host facility, which is located in a rural lakeside resort about 70 miles south of Buffalo, New York.
According to two sources who spoke to CNN, the institution’s leadership had rejected recommendations for basic security measures, including bag checks and metal detectors, fearing it would create a divide between speakers and audience. The leadership also feared it would change the culture in the institution, the sources said.
The two sources have direct knowledge of the security situation at the Chautauqua Institution and previous recommendations and spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly.
It is unclear whether the recommended measures would have prevented the attack on Rushdie based on information released about the incident Friday night. Authorities have not disclosed what type of weapon was used in the attack.
There were no security screenings or metal detectors at the event, a person who witnessed the attack told CNN. The witness has not been identified as they were concerned for their personal safety.
CNN contacted the Chautauqua Institute and its leadership for comment, but received no response Friday.
Institution president Michael Hill defended his organization’s security plans when asked at a news conference on Friday whether more precautions would be taken at future events.
“We review for each event what we think is the right level of security, and this was definitely one that we thought was important, which is why we had a State Trooper and Sheriff there,” Hill said. “We will assess what we believe is the appropriate level of security for each of the events at the facility and that is an ongoing process that we are working on with local law enforcement.”
Henry Reese, co-founder of the Pittsburgh nonprofit City of Asylum, was also injured Friday, who police said would join Rushdie in a discussion. He was taken to a hospital and treated for a facial injury and released.
Rushdie’s writings have won several literary awards, including the Booker Prize for his 1981 book, Midnight’s Children. But it was his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, that attracted the most attention, as some Muslims found the book sacrilegious, and its publication in 1988 sparked public demonstrations.
The late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who described the book as an affront to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, issued a religious decree or fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.
The suspect in the attack was identified as Hadi Matar of Fairview, New Jersey, New York State Forces Commander Major Eugene J. Staniszewski said at a news conference Friday night.
The attack happened around 10:45 a.m. when Rushdie was introduced, a witness told CNN. A man in a black shirt appeared to “beat” the author. The witness, who was about 75 feet from the stage, did not hear the attacker say anything or see a weapon.
Another witness, Joyce Lussier, was sitting in the second row when she saw a man who “swung across the stage and headed straight for Mr. Rushdie.
“He came on the left and jumped across the podium and jumped out at him. In two seconds, I don’t know, he was over that podium,’ said Lussier. She heard people screaming and crying and saw people running from the audience to the stage, she said.
Matar, 24, allegedly stabbed Rushdie at least once in the neck and at least once in the abdomen, state police said. Staff and onlookers rushed to the attacker and laid him on the ground before a state agent took him into custody, police said.
On Friday night, police had cordoned off the street to the New Jersey home suspected of being related to the suspect.
Rushdie, the son of a successful Muslim businessman in India, was educated in England, first at Rugby School and later at Cambridge University, where he obtained a master’s degree in history.
After college, he started working as a copywriter for advertisements in London, before publishing his first novel, Grimus, in 1975.
In 1989, as a result of the fatwa, Rushdie began a decade under British protection.
Rushdie told CNN in 1999 that the experience had taught him “to appreciate even more… the things I valued before, like the art of literature and the freedom of speech and the right to say things that other people don’t like.”
“It may have been an unpleasant decade, but it was the right fight, you know. It was fighting for the things I believe in most against things I dislike most, which is bigotry and fanaticism and censorship.”
The bounty against Rushdie has never been lifted, although in 1998 the Iranian government tried to distance itself from the fatwa by promising not to implement it.
Despite this, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently reaffirmed the religious edict.
In February 2017, the Supreme Leader was asked on Khamenei’s official website whether the “fatwa against Rushdie was still in effect”, to which Khamenei confirmed: “The decree is as issued by Imam Khomeini.”