Salman Rushdiethe author whose writing led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s was stabbed Friday as he was about to give a lecture in western New York, authorities said. The 75-year-old author was stabbed at least once in the neck and once in the abdomen, officials said at a news conference Friday night. His agent later said he was placed on a ventilator and will likely lose an eye.
Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, was identified as the suspect in the stabbing, New York State Police Major Eugene J. Staniszewski told reporters. He had a pass to access the grounds, as did the others in the public, officials said.
Matar was taken into custody by a state agent assigned to the event, he added.
Authorities believe he acted alone and are trying to determine a motive for the attack.
Rushdie’s agent said Friday night that the author is currently on a ventilator and cannot speak. He said Rushdie will likely lose an eye, adding that the nerves in his arm had been “severed” and his liver had been “pierced and damaged”.
An Associated Press reporter witnessed a man storm the stage at the Chautauqua Institute and begin assaulting Rushdie when he was introduced. Rushdie was pushed or fell to the ground, and the man was stopped.
Rushdie was quickly surrounded by a small group of people who held up his legs, presumably to send more blood to his chest. Officials said a doctor who was in the audience helped for Rushdie as they waited for the ambulance to arrive.
Rushdie’s agent confirmed Friday afternoon that he was undergoing surgery.
Staniszewski said the suspect also assaulted another speaker, who suffered a minor injury to his face. He was taken to a hospital and released, Staniszewski said.
A video of the aftermath of the attack was posted on social media.
Hundreds of people in the audience gasped at the sight of the attack and were subsequently evacuated.
“Our thoughts are with Salman and his loved ones after this horrific event,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul said. tweeted after the attack.
Rushdie was at the event to talk about “the United States as a refuge for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression,” according to the Chautauqua Institute.
Video posted to Twitter appeared to show Rushdie being taken to a medical helicopter.
Rushdie’s book “The Satanic Verses” has been banned in Iran since 1988 because many Muslims consider it blasphemous. A year later, Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa or edict demanding the death of Rushdie.
The Iranian government has long distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment lingered. In 2012, a semi-official Iranian religious foundation increased Rushdie’s bounty from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.
Rushdie dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was “no evidence” that people were interested in the reward. That year, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about his experience living under the fatwa.
in 2015Rushdie spoke about the murders of 12 people in the Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdosay that the right to free speech is absolute, otherwise it is not free.
“Both John F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela use the same three-word phrase that says it all in my mind, namely, ‘Freedom is indivisible,’ he said. ‘You cannot divide it, otherwise it ceases to be freedom. You can’t like Charlie Hebdo. … But the fact that you hate them has nothing to do with their right to speak.”
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan released a statement Friday evening condemning the attack, writing that “this act of violence is horrific”.
“All of us in the Biden-Harris administration are praying for his speedy recovery,” Sullivan said. “We are grateful to the good civilians and first responders for helping Mr. Rushdie so soon after the attack and are grateful to law enforcement for their prompt and effective work, which is underway.”