Author Salman Rushdie was stabbed at least once in the neck and once in the abdomen at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York this morning as he took the stage to speak at an event.
“He is alive. He has been transported, airlifted to safety, but he is an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said. “Someone who’s been out there unafraid despite the threats that have followed him his entire adult life, it seems. And it happened at a site that is a place that’s very familiar to me. A very tranquil, rural community.”
Rushdie, the 75-year-old British author of 14 novels, four works of nonfiction and a collection of short stories, had a fatwa issued against him by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 for the publication of the novel The Satanic Verses the previous year. The ayatollah called the book “blasphemous against Islam” while offering a bounty for Rushdie’s murder, and bookstores as well as people associated with the publication were attacked. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reaffirmed the fatwa in 2005.
New York State Police identified the suspect at Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, N.J. He was captured on the scene by on-site security and audience members, police said, while a doctor in the audience provided emergency care to Rushdie until EMS arrived. Rushdie was in surgery this evening.
Rushdie was speaking at a 10:45 a.m. event with Henry Reese, co-founder and president of City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, an organization that provides sanctuary to writers exiled under threat of persecution. Reese suffered facial injuries and was treated and released from the hospital.
Dr. Michael E. Hill, president of the Chautauqua Institution, told reporters that Matar had a pass to enter the grounds. One witness told CNN that there were no security checks or metal detectors to enter the event.
“We ask for your prayers for Salman Rushdie and Henry Reese, and patience as we fully focus on coordinating and cooperating with police officials following a tragic incident at the Amphitheater today,” the Chautauqua Institution said in a statement, advising that they canceled the rest of the day’s events. The nonprofit institution maintains its own police department “to serve and protect all who come to the grounds, while enforcing the law with impartiality, respect, and compassion.”
Hochul said that “it was a state police officer who stood up and saved his life, protected him, as well as the moderator who was attacked as well.”
“We are undeterred in our commitment to make sure that we call it out, we condemn what happened, we condemn all violence, and we want people to feel that freedom to speak and to write truth,” the governor added.