Salman Rushdie is on a ventilator with a damaged liver and may lose one of his eyes after the Mumbai-born controversial author was stabbed in the neck and abdomen by a man on stage at a literary event in upstate New York.
Rushdie, who faced Islamist death threats for years after writing “The Satanic Verses”, was stabbed by a 24-year-old New Jersey resident identified as Hadi Matar on stage on Friday while he was being introduced at the event of the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York.
A bloodied Rushdie was airlifted from a field adjacent to the venue to a hospital in northwestern Pennsylvania where the 75-year-old writer underwent surgery.
Rushdie, who won the Booker Prize for his novel “Midnight’s Children”, was unable to speak.
Rushdie “will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed, and his liver was stabbed and damaged,” the writer’s agent Andrew Wylie told The New York Times.
“The news is not good,” Wylie said.
The suspect was from Fairview, New Jersey, State Police Troop Commander Major Eugene J Staniszewski said in a Friday evening news conference.
Police are working with the FBI and local authorities to determine the motive.
Authorities are also working to obtain search warrants for several items found at the scene, including a backpack and electronic devices, Staniszewski said.
Authorities believe the suspect was alone but are investigating “to make sure that was the case,” Staniszewski added.
Rushdie was stabbed in the neck as he was on the stage at the Chautauqua Institution, a not-for-profit community on Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York State, where approximately 7,500 people are in residence on any day during a nine-week season.
Staniszewski said Rushdie was provided medical treatment by a doctor who was in the audience until emergency medical personnel arrived on the scene.
“The doctor immediately began first aid” on Rushdie.
Replying to a question about Matar’s nationality, Staniszewski said, “I don’t know yet.” Asked how he would describe Rushdie’s condition, Staniszewski said, “We are trying to get an update and it is something that we are watching closely.” Staniszewski said the authorities do not have any indication of a motive “at this time. But we are working with the FBI, the Sheriff’s Office and we will determine what the cause of this was and what the motive for this attack was”.
Rushdie was about to speak at the special Chautauqua Lecture Series event exploring the theme of “More than Shelter” for a “discussion on the United States as an asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression”.
He was joined by Henry Reese, co-founder of the Pittsburgh nonprofit City of Asylum, the largest residency programme in the world for writers living in exile under the threat of persecution.
Staniszewski said at approximately 10:47 am local time, Rushdie and Reese (73) had just arrived on stage at the Chautauqua Institution for the event. “Shortly thereafter, the suspect jumped onto the stage and attacked Rushdie, stabbing him at least once in the neck and at least once in the abdomen.” Staniszewski said several members of the staff at the institution and audience members rushed the suspect and took him to the ground. A trooper with the New York State Police, who was at the institution, took the suspect into custody with the assistance of a Chautauqua County Sheriff’s deputy.
Reese was transported via ambulance to a local hospital, treated for facial injuries and subsequently released, authorities said.
The State Police are being assisted by the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI in the investigation. Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt will determine “appropriate charges as the investigation continues,” authorities said.
A preliminary review of Matar’s social media accounts by law enforcement showed him to be sympathetic to Shia extremism and the causes of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a law enforcement person with direct knowledge of the investigation told NBC News.
Chautauqua Institution president Michael Hill said the organisation is holding Rushdie and Reese as well as their families “close in prayer at this hour”.
“What we experienced at Chautauqua today is an incident unlike anything in our nearly 150-year history. We were founded to bring people together in community, to learn and in doing so, create solutions through action, to develop empathy and to take on intractable problems. Today, we are called to take on fear and the worst of all human traits. Hate,” Hill said.
The leadership at the Chautauqua Institution rejected past recommendations to increase security at events, two sources told CNN.
The recommendations for basic security measures, such as bag checks and metal detectors, were rejected because the leadership feared it would create a divide between speakers and the audience, and would change the culture at Chautauqua, the report said.
Counter Extremism Project (CEP) CEO Ambassador Mark Wallace said his thoughts and prayers go out to Rushdie and his family after he suffered the “senseless” attack on his life.
“Rushdie is a champion of free speech who has lived under the threat of assassination since the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa against him in 1989. Despite the continuous calls for his execution by the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, Rushdie has refused to be intimidated. His bravery and commitment to his values should be celebrated in this difficult moment.”