Author Salman Rushdie — the subject of a decades-old death threat from Iranian Muslim clerics — was knifed in the neck Friday in a stunning attack as he prepared to deliver a lecture in western New York.
Rushdie, 75, was on a ventilator Friday night, his agent, Andrew Wylie said. He has a damaged liver, severed nerves in one arm and is likely to lose an eye, the agent said. Rushdie was flown to a hospital in Erie, Pa., where he underwent surgery.
Dr. Martin Haskell, one of the people one the scene who rushed to help, described the prolific and controversial author’s wounds as “serious but recoverable.”
At the scene, cops arrested 24-year-old Hadi Matar of Fairview, N.J., a town in Bergen County across the Hudson River from Manhattan.
Rushdie was set to speak as part of an event held at the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit center near Lake Erie. The institution, about 55 miles southwest of Buffalo, describes itself as “a community of artists, educators, thinkers, faith leaders and friends dedicated to exploring the best in humanity.”
Instead, the audience saw a stunning display of the worst in humanity.
Rushdie was being introduced around 11 a.m. when a man rushed the stage and then began punching and stabbing him, sending shockwaves through audience members gathered together to participate in the lecture series, titled “More than Shelter.”
Matar managed to knock Rushdie off his feet and stab him at least once in the neck and once in the abdomen before he was detained by a state trooper assigned to the event, according to New York State Police. The amphitheater was quickly evacuated.
Photos taken on the scene show a small crowd of people huddled around Rushdie, some of who can be seen tending to his injuries. Blood can also be seen on the ground near Rushdie and on the chair he was sitting in just prior to the attack.
His condition was not immediately known, but he was able to walk off the stage with some assistance, said witnesses. The person set to interview Rushdie, Henry Reese, suffered a minor head injury during the chaos.
Gov. Hochul praised the speedy action by New York State Police and all those who responded following the stabbing.
“Our thoughts are with Salman and his loved ones following this horrific event,” she said. “I have directed State Police to further assist however needed in the investigation.
Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the hundreds of people in the audience at the time. He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds.
“This guy ran on to platform and started pounding on Mr. Rushdie,” Savenor said. “At first you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then it became abundantly clear in a few seconds that he was being beaten.”
While a motive for the attack was unclear on Friday evening, the Mumbai-born writer has faced much controversy over the course of his decades-long career.
Rushdie — the author of 14 novels, four works of nonfiction and a collection of short stories — is perhaps best known for penning “The Satanic Verses.” The piece was dubbed blasphemous by many Muslims and has been banned in Iran since 1988. The following year, the nation’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.
Iran has also offered a $3 million reward to anyone able to kill Rushdie.
At age 24, Matar was not alive when “The Satanic Verses” was published. Fairview, the town where he lives, is southern Bergen County, about 3 1/2 miles south of the George Washington Bridge, roughly across the Hudson River from the Upper West Side.
A man who lives near Matar’s home said that around 5:30 p.m., police in unmarked vehicles detained a woman who drove up to the house.
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“When the woman got out of the car, they got out and put their jackets on [which identified them as law enforcement] and started questioning her,” said the man, who did not give his name. “Then they took her into the house.”
The neighbor said the woman was in her 40s or 50s.
After the issuance of the fatwa, Rushdie spent nearly a decade under British protection before slowly returning to the public eye. In 2008, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
After “The Satanic Verses” was published, more than 40 people were killed in varying riots across the world. Twelve people were killed in Mumbai.
In 1991, a man who translated the book into Japanese was stabbed to death. That same year, an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, a Norwegian publisher of the book was shot three times but survived.
In 2012, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about his life in hiding following the Iranian fatwa. The title came from the pseudonym Rushdie used for nine years.
With News Wire Services