CHAUTAKOA, New York (Associated Press) – Salman Rushdie, whose novel “The Satanic Verses” drew death threats from the Iranian leader in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and stomach Friday by a man who rushed onto the stage as the author was about to give a lecture in western New York.
Police said Rushdie, 75, covered in blood, was flown to a hospital and underwent surgery. His condition was not immediately known.
Police identified the attacker as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey. He was arrested at the scene and was awaiting indictment. State Police Major Eugene Stanicowski said the motive for the stabbing was not clear.
An Associated Press reporter saw the attacker confront Rushdie on stage at the Chautauqua Institution and hit or stab him 10 to 15 times while introducing. The author was pushed or fell to the ground and the man was arrested.
Dr. Martin Haskell, a physician who was among those who rushed to help, described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but curable.”
Event director Henry Reese, 73, who is co-founder of an organization that provides residencies for writers facing persecution, was also attacked. Police said Reese was hit in the face and treated and released from hospital. He and Rushdie were to discuss the United States as a refuge for writers and other artists in exile.
A police officer and the county deputy sheriff was appointed to lecture Rushdie, and state police said the soldier made the arrest. But after the attack, some of the center’s longtime visitors questioned why there was no tight security for the event, given decades of threats against Rushdie and a bounty on his head offering more than $3 million to whoever kills him.
Rabbi Charles Savinor was among about 2,500 people in attendance. In the midst of a gasp, spectators were pushed out of the outdoor amphitheater.
The attacker ran onto the podium “and started bombarding Mr. Rushdie. At first I was like, ‘What’s going on?” And then it became quite clear in a few seconds that he was getting hit,” Savinor said. He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds.
Another spectator, Kathleen James, said the attacker was wearing a black uniform and a black mask.
“We thought it might have been part of a ploy to show that there was still a lot of controversy about this author. But it turned out in a few seconds” that it wasn’t, she said.
The head of the organization said that Matar, like other visitors, was given permission to enter the foundation’s 750-acre land.
The suspect’s attorney, public defender Nathaniel Baron, said he was still collecting information and declined to comment. The authorities closed Matar’s house.
Rushdie has been a prominent speaker on freedom of expression and liberal issues. He is a former president of PEN America, which said she was “reeling from shock and awe” from the attack.
“We cannot think of an incident comparable to a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” CEO Susan Nossel said in a statement.
Rushdie’s 1988 novel was considered blasphemous by many Muslims, as they considered a character an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections. Throughout the Muslim world, violent protests often erupted against Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim family.
At least 45 people were killed in riots over the book, including 12 in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was killed and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the Norwegian book publisher was shot three times and survived.
The book was banned in Iran, where the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989, calling for Rushdie’s death. Khomeini died in the same year.
The current Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did not issue a fatwa on his own to withdraw the fatwa, although in recent years Iran has not focused on the writer.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s attack, which led to a nightly newscast on Iranian state television.
Death threats and a reward drove Rushdie into hiding under a British government protection program, which included a round-the-clock armed guard. Rushdie emerged after nine years of seclusion and cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism in general.
He said in a 2012 talk in New York that terrorism is really the art of fear.
“The only way you can defeat her,” he said, “is if you decide not to be afraid.”
Anti-Rushdie sentiment persisted long after Khomeini’s decree. The Censorship Index, an organization that promotes free speech, said the money was raised to boost the reward for his recent murder in 2016.
An Associated Press journalist who went to the Tehran office of the 15 Khordad Foundation, which paid millions for Rushdie’s bounty, found it closed Friday night on the Iranian weekend. No one answered calls to the phone number listed.
In 2012 Rushdie published his memoirs entitled “Joseph Anton” on the fatwa. The title came from the alias Rushdie used when he was in hiding.
Rushdie rose to prominence with his 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel The Midnight Children, but his name became known worldwide after The Satanic Verses.
Widely regarded as one of Britain’s best alive writers, Rushdie was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2008, and earlier this year he was awarded the Companions of Honor, a royal honor for people who have made significant contributions to the arts. . Or science or public life.
In a tweet, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed his regret that Rushdie was attacked “in the exercise of a right we must not stop defending”.
The Chautauqua Institution, about 55 miles southwest of Buffalo in a rural corner of New York, has served for more than a century as a place for spiritual reflection and guidance. Visitors do not pass through metal detectors or undergo baggage checks. Most people leave the doors of their century-old cottages locked at night.
The center is best known for its summer lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken before.
“We were founded to bring people together” to learn and find solutions to big problems, said Foundation President Michael Hill. “Now we are called to bear fear and the worst trait of humankind: hate.”
AP reporters John F. in Chutaoqua; Jennifer Peltz and Hillel Italy from New York City; Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; Ted Shaffery in Fairview, New Jersey; Nasser Karimi and Mehdi Fattahi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.
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