The family of the 75-year-old author – who has lived under threat for decades because of his writing – said he was in critical condition on Sunday after the attack on stage, which ended in the the assailant being kept by staff and guests and Rushdie airlifted to a hospital.
“Although his life-changing injuries are severe, his usual fiery and provocative sense of humor remains intact,” his son Zafar Rushdie said in a statement released on Sunday.
Rushdie was taken off a ventilator over the weekend but was still being treated for injuries, including three stab wounds to the neck, four stab wounds to the stomach, puncture wounds to his right eye and to the chest and a laceration to the right thigh, Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt said Saturday, adding that the perpetrator may end up losing his right eye.
The suspect, identified as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, was arrested by a state trooper after the attack and taken into custody.
Authorities are currently investigating what prompted the stabbing, which prompted the state to increase police presence in Chautauqua, New York State Police Superintendent Kevin P. Bruen said.
What we know about the “targeted and planned” attack
Rushdie was introduced to give a talk at the Chautauqua Institution on Friday when a man rushed onto the stage and stabbed the author in several places in front of a stunned audience.
According to New York State Police, staff members and guests then rushed to the scene and restrained the assailant before a state trooper assigned to the event cautioned him. on sight.
Ralph Henry Reese, another speaker at the event, was also injured in the attack and suffered a minor head injury.
“It was very hard to fathom. It felt like a bad prank and it had no sense of reality,” Ralph Henry Reese told CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” “And then when there was blood behind him, it became real.”
A witness, Joyce Lussier, was sitting in the second row when she saw the attack unfold. She heard people screaming and crying, she told CNN, and saw people from the audience rushing onto the stage.
The suspect, Matar, had arrived in Chautauqua at least a day before the event and purchased an event pass two days prior, authorities said.
Schmidt called the stabbing a “targeted, planned and unprovoked attack on Mr. Rushdie”, saying Matar had traveled to Chautauqua by bus with cash, prepaid Visa cards and fake coins. identify.
The felony complaint against Matar stated that a knife was used in the assault.
It remains unclear how the suspect was able to enter the event armed with a knife. A witness, however, told CNN that there were no security searches or metal detectors at the event. The witness has not been identified because he expressed concerns for his personal safety.
The institution’s president, Michael Hill, defended his organization’s security plans when asked at a press conference on Friday whether there would be more precautions at future events.
“We assess for each event what we think is the appropriate level of security, and this was certainly the one we thought was important, which is why we had a State Trooper and Sheriff presence there,” said Hill.
On Sunday, New York Governor Kathy Hochul met with Chautauqua Institute scene crews and the police officer who helped subdue Rushdie’s alleged attacker, calling them heroes.
“The team that was on the ground here and the paramedics, firefighters and those who showed up and literally kept the man alive while they transported him, did an amazing job,” the governor said.
Suspect pleads not guilty, described as ‘quiet’ New Jersey man
Matar — who authorities say has no documented criminal history — pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted second-degree murder and second-degree assault with intent to harm someone with a deadly weapon, his public defender, Nathaniel Barone, told CNN on Saturday. .
The lawyer said Matar was “very cooperative” and communicated openly, but he did not discuss what was said during those conversations.
He faces up to 32 years if convicted on both counts, Schmidt said.
Matar was described as a calm person who mostly kept to himself.
The suspect had signed up with the State of Fitness Boxing Club in North Bergen, New Jersey in April, gym owner Desmond Boyle told CNN.
“You know that look, that ‘this is the worst day of your life’ look? It came up every day like that,” Boyle told CNN on Saturday.
Gym member Roberto Irizarry told CNN that Matar goes to the gym about three or four times a week and is “a very calm kid.”
“It’s a brotherly environment, a family environment – we try to involve everyone. He was pretty much on his own,” Irizarry said.
Rushdie receives flood of support as he begins ‘road to recovery’
The attack on the prominent author generated an outpouring of support from world leaders.
US President Joe Biden said in a statement he was saddened by the attack.
“Salman Rushdie – with his insight into humanity, with his unparalleled sense of history, with his refusal to be bullied or silenced – represents essential and universal ideals. Truth. Courage. Resilience. ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society,” Biden said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a tweet that he was “appalled” by the attack on Rushdie, who is also a British citizen.
“Appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed while exercising a right that we should never stop defending. At this time my thoughts are with his loved ones. We all hope he is well,” Johnson said on Friday .
Rushdie’s former wife, TV host Padma Lakshmi, said in a tweet on Sunday that she was “relieved” Rushdie was “coming through after Friday’s nightmare.”
“Worried and mute, can finally breathe out. Now let’s hope for a speedy recovery,” she said.
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, a non-profit press freedom organization, said in a statement:
“PEN America is reeling in shock and horror at news of a brutal and premeditated attack on our former President and staunch ally, Salman Rushdie, who was allegedly stabbed multiple times while speaking on stage at the Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York,” Nossel said. said. “We can think of no comparable incident of a public attack on a literary writer on American soil.”
“Salman Rushdie was targeted for his lyrics for decades but never flinched or wavered,” Nossel added. “He devoted tireless energy to helping those who were vulnerable and at risk.”
Rushdie’s writings have won him several literary awards, but also scrutiny. His fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses”, was condemned by some Muslims who found the book sacrilegious.
Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who described the book as an insult to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, issued a religious decree, or fatwa, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.
As a result, Rushdie began a decade under British protection.
“Regarding the attack on Salman Rushdie, we do not consider anyone other than [Rushdie] and its supporters deserve blame and even condemnation,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani told a televised press conference on Monday.
Kanaani also said Iranian officials “categorically and seriously deny any connection of the aggressor to Iran”, according to Iranian state media.
“We have seen nothing else about the individual who committed this act other than what we have seen in the US media. We categorically and seriously deny any connection of the perpetrator to Iran,” the statement said. Kanaani according to Iranian state media.
While the motive for Friday’s knife attack is still under investigation, the governor of New York has condemned the attack.
“I want to make it clear that a man with a knife cannot silence a man with a pen,” Hochul said.
CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian, Liam Reilly, Samantha Beech, Keith Allen, Adam Pourahmadi, Alex Stambaugh
and Brian Stelter contributed to this report.