British author Sir. Salman Rushdie, who spent nearly a decade in hiding after the Iranian leader called for his murder over his book The Satanic Verses, was stabbed about 15 times at a theatre in New York Friday allegedly by a 24-year-old Shia Muslim. The 75-year-old author is on a ventilator and could lose an eye, his agent said.
Rushdie, who was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania, after he was stabbed in the abdomen and the neck while he was on the stage of Chautauqua Institution for a discussion, “will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged,” the BBC reported, citing his agent, Andrew Wylie.
The suspect rushed the stage and attacked Rushdie after he had just sat down onstage with the discussion’s moderator, Ralph Henry Reese from the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, City of Asylum, for exiled writers, The New York Times reported. The India-born British author was scheduled to give a talk before 2,500 people about the United States being a safe haven for exiled writers.
Reese, 73, also suffered injuries to his face and was treated and released from a local hospital. But Rushdie was still unable to speak as of early Saturday because he remains on a ventilator.
The New York State Police identified the suspect as Hadi Matar from New Jersey, and said his motive was unknown.
“It took like five men to pull him away and he was still stabbing,” Linda Abrams, an onlooker, was quoted as saying. “He was just furious, furious. Like intensely strong and just fast.”
Another witness, Kathleen James, said Matar was wearing black clothing and a black mask. “We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy around this author. But it became evident in a few seconds” that it wasn’t, she told The Associated Press.
Matar, who was arrested at the scene by a state trooper who was assigned to the lecture, was sympathetic to the Iranian government, The New York Post said, quoting anonymous law enforcement sources.
Based on his social media posts, Matar is a supporter of Iran, its Revolutionary Guard and Shia extremism, the Post reported.
The venue, Chautauqua Institution, where the stabbing took place, had rejected previous recommendations to toughen security measures, fearing that would create a divide between speakers and the audience and change the culture at the institution, two sources told CNN, which clarified that it was unclear whether the recommended measures would have prevented the attack on Rushdie.
President Joe Biden called the attack “reprehensible.”
“This act of violence is appalling. All of us in the Biden-Harris Administration are praying for his speedy recovery,” Biden said in a statement. “We are thankful to good citizens and first responders for helping Mr. Rushdie so quickly after the attack and to law enforcement for its swift and effective work, which is ongoing.”
New York Governor Kathy Hochul called the attack “heart-breaking.”
“It was a police officer who stood up and saved his life and protected him,” The Telegraph quoted Hochul as saying.
Rushdie, who was born in Mumbai, India, promotes freedom of speech and speaks out against religious extremism. He has faced Islamist death threats since 1989 when Iran’s then Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a religious edict, or fatwa, ordering Muslims to kill him over his novel The Satanic Verses, which was deemed as “blasphemous.”
Rushdie, on whose head a $3 million bounty was placed for anyone who kills him, lived under the protection of the British police for most of the next 10 years.