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Author Salman Rushdie, who has had death threats made against him for decades over his writing, was attacked during a literary event in New York on Friday morning.
A man rushed the stage and stabbed Rushdie as he was being introduced at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York, according to an Associated Press reporter at the event.
New York State Police Major Eugene J. Staniszewski said the attacker, identified as 24-year-old Hadi Matar of Fairview, New Jersey, jumped onto the stage and stabbed Rushdie in the neck and the abdomen.
At Matar’s arraignment on Saturday, prosecutors said Rushdie was stabbed 10 times and alleged the attack was premeditated and targeted, the New York Times reported. Matar pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault during the arraignment, the New York State Police told BuzzFeed News. He was ordered held without bail in the Chautauqua County Jail.
Staniszewski said several staff members and people in the audience rushed the suspect and took him to the ground before he was taken into custody by a state trooper. Meanwhile, a doctor who was in the audience treated Rushdie until emergency medical personnel arrived.
Rushdie was transported by helicopter to a local hospital. Staniszewski told reporters Friday afternoon that the author was still in surgery and his condition was not known. Rushdie’s agent Andrew Wylie told the New York Times Friday evening that the author was on a ventilator, saying “the news is not good.”
“Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged,” Wylie said in an email, according to the Times.
Another individual on the stage, Henry Reese, cofounder of City of Asylum, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that helps house writers living in exile, also sustained a “facial injury” in the attack, Staniszewski said. Reese was transported by ambulance to a local hospital for treatment and later released.
A motive for the attack is not yet clear, Staniszewski said. The FBI and Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office are assisting in the investigation.
Photos from the scene show Rushdie lying on the ground surrounded by people presumably attending to his wounds. A blood splatter can be seen on the white screens he’d been in front of.
Rushdie had a fatwa issued against him by the Ayatollah of Iran in 1989 following the publication of The Satanic Verses, with criticisms that the book was blasphemous against Islam.
He faced constant death threats, and a bounty of over $3 million was issued for his death by a group in Iran.
In a statement, President Joe Biden said he and first lady Jill Biden were “shocked and saddened” to learn of the attack and were praying for Rushdie’s recovery. Biden also thanked the first responders and bystanders who rushed to the author’s help and subdued the attacker.
“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. Truth. Courage,” Biden said in the statement. “Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society.”
Staniszewski said authorities were working to obtain search warrants for various items, adding that a backpack and electronic devices that were found at the scene. Authorities believe the suspect acted alone.
He added that state police were not aware of any previous threats ahead of the attack, but troopers were present at the event at the request of the institution.
Michael Hill, president of Chautauqua, said the individual had a pass to access the grounds “just the way any patron would have.” The institution is a not-for-profit educational center that offers courses in art, music, dance, and other interests and hosts over 100,000 public events.
Hill said Friday’s attack was “unlike anything” the institution has ever experienced in its nearly 150-year history.
“We were founded to bring people together in community to learn and in doing so to create solutions through action, to develop empathy, and to take on intractable problems,” Hill said. “Today, now we’re called to take on fear and the worst of all human traits: hate.”
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