Salman Rushdie is recovering in a hospital after being repeatedly stabbed on stage in front of a New York audience on Friday in an attack that left him with severe injuries, according to his family.
The family of the 75-year-old author, who has faced threats for decades because of his writings, said Sunday that he was in critical condition following the attack, which ended with the assailant being held down by staff and guests and Rushdie being airlifted to a hospital.
“Though his life-changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty and defiant 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 he was still being treated for injuries that included three stab wounds to his neck, four stab wounds to his stomach, puncture wounds to his right eye and chest, and a laceration on his right thigh, according to Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt, who added that the author might lose his right eye.
The suspect, Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, was apprehended and taken into custody by a state trooper following the attack.
According to New York State Police Superintendent Kevin Bruen, authorities are investigating what motivated the stabbing, which has prompted the state to increase police presence in Chautauqua.
Rushdie’s writings have earned him literary awards as well as much scrutiny. Some Muslims condemned his fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses,” calling it sacrilegious. In 1989, the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a religious decree, or fatwa, calling for Rushdie’s death, describing the book as an insult to Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.
According to Iranian state media, Iranian officials “categorically and seriously deny any connection of the assailant with Iran.” “We haven’t seen anything else about the person who committed this act besides what we’ve seen in American media. We categorically and unequivocally deny that the assailant has any connection to Iran.”
Rushdie was about to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution on Friday when a man lunged onto the stage and stabbed him in front of a stunned audience.
According to New York State Police, staff and guests rushed onto the stage and restrained the assailant until a state trooper assigned to the event apprehended him.
Ralph Henry Reese, another speaker who was injured in the attack, suffered a minor head injury.
Joyce Lussier, who was sitting in the second row, witnessed the attack. She heard people screaming and crying and saw audience members rush up to the stage, she told CNN. According to authorities, the suspect, Matar, arrived in Chautauqua at least a day before the event and purchased a pass for it two days before.
Schmidt described the stabbing as a “targeted, preplanned, unprovoked attack on Mr. Rushdie,” adding that Matar arrived in Chautauqua with cash, prepaid Visa cards, and false identification.
According to the felony complaint filed against Matar, a knife was used in the stabbing.
It’s unclear how the suspect got into the event armed with a knife. There were no security searches or metal detectors at the event, according to a witness who did not want to be identified because they were concerned about their personal safety.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul met with Chautauqua Institute stage crews and the police trooper who assisted in apprehending Rushdie’s alleged attacker on Sunday, hailing them as heroes.
Matar, who authorities claim has no documented criminal history, pleaded not guilty on Saturday to charges of second-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault with intent to cause physical injury with a deadly weapon, according to his public defender, Nathaniel Barone.
Matar has been “very cooperative” and open in his communication, according to the attorney, who did not elaborate on what was said during those conversations.
“Mr. Matar, like every individual in our country, benefits from the presumption of innocence, a fair trial, and due process,” Barone said Monday.
Schmidt stated that if Matar is convicted of both charges, he could face up to 32 years in prison. Matar was described as being a quiet person who mostly kept to himself.
The suspect had enrolled in April at State of Fitness Boxing Club in North Bergen, New Jersey, the gym’s owner, Desmond Boyle, told CNN.