Sir Salman Rushdie was undergoing emergency surgery last night and will ‘likely lose an eye’ after being stabbed in the neck on stage in America.
The celebrated author, who has faced Islamist death threats for three decades after writing The Satanic Verses, was knifed by an attacker who came out of the audience as he was about to give a lecture in western New York state.
Rushdie was rushed to a ventilator with severed nerves in one arm and damage to his liver and the outlook grim for one of his eyes, according to his agent.
‘The news is not good,’ agent Andrew Wylie said in a written statement. ‘Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.’
Witnesses saw the alleged knifeman, named last night as Hadi Matar, 24, from New Jersey, strike ‘ten to 15 times’ in a matter of seconds before Rushdie, 75, fell to the floor covered in blood.
The attacker, clad in black and wearing a black mask, stormed the stage at the Chautauqua Institution as the writer was being introduced to a cultural festival before giving a speech about artistic free expression.
Hundreds of people in the audience gasped and blood spatter could be seen on the stage and surrounding furniture. The Booker Prize-winning author was surrounded by staff and audience members, some of them holding up his legs in an apparent effort to send more blood to his chest.
Security guards and audience members pinned down the attacker on stage as the audience was asked to quietly leave the amphitheatre after the horrific incident at 11am local time.
A New York state trooper arrested the suspect and he was taken away by police. Officials would not speculate on the motive.
This labelled timeline of images shows Rushdie on stage before the attack happens, then the response, the arrest of assailant Hadi Matar, 24, and subsequent air ambulance
On stage at the lecture theatre: Man thought to be Sir Salman Rushdie is seen on the left at the the Chautauqua Institution
Helpers cradle the wounded author: Satanic Verse author Salman Rushdie is helped by people after he was stabbed on stage
Suspect held down on stage: A police officer and another man are seen holding some down on the stage
He is taken away by police: The man is put into a cop car and is still in custody after the attack on Salman Rushdie
Blood spatters a screen near speakers: It is on the wall behind where Rushdie had been attacked, with some also seen on a chair
Sir Salman Rushdie was put on a stretcher and airlifted to hospital after the shocking stabbing this morning
Although Rushdie was rushed to hospital by helicopter after being put on a stretcher, he was able to walk off the stage with help from others about five minutes after the attack.
His agent Andrew Wylie said his client and friend went into surgery immediately after landing at the medical facility and he was last night anxiously waiting for an update.
Rushdie, who now lives in New York, spent years living in hiding under British police protection after Ayatollah Khomeini called for his execution, issuing a 1989 fatwa against him on the grounds that his novel The Satanic Verses was blasphemous.
Many Muslims claimed the novel depicted Muhammad irreverently and it sparked rioting and the burning of bookshops around the world.
The fatwa covered others connected to The Satanic Verses and Hitoshi Igarashi, the book’s Japanese translator, was stabbed to death in 1991.
Rushdie still has a £2.7 million bounty on his head but audience members in Chautauqua, near Buffalo, said security at the event was lax and there were no searches. Rushdie, who has spoken there before without incident, did not appear to have any bodyguards with him.
Rita Landman, an endocrinologist who was in the audience, said she went on to the stage to offer medical assistance.
People rushed to assist the author after the attack, with the attacker being restrained by witnesses. The motive for the stabbing is currently unknown
Salman Rushdie, 75, was attacked by a man who approached him from behind before stabbing him multiple times. The suspect, pictured with Sheriff deputies, was quickly pinned to the floor before being arrested
Rushdie was airlifted to hospital after receiving medical assistance from those at the event near Buffalo, in Upstate New York
Rushdie was attacked on stage ahead of his speech in Chautauqua, near Buffalo, with witnesses claiming that he was ‘punched and stabbed’
She said Rushdie had multiple stab wounds, including one to the right side of his neck, and there was a pool of blood under his body. But she said he was not receiving CPR.
‘People were saying, ‘He has a pulse, he has a pulse, he has a pulse’,’ she told the New York Times.
Many witnesses initially thought the assailant was simply punching the writer rather than stabbing him, so relentless was the attack.
Rabbi Charles Savenor, who was in the audience to hear Rushdie talk about cities that offer asylum for persecuted writers, said the attack happened ‘in a blink’ as the writer and his host, Henry Reese, sat down.
‘I was sitting around 50ft away so I didn’t see whether he was punching him or if he had a blade, but all I saw was the arm going up and down, up and down,’ he said.
‘People were deeply in shock. Chautauqua Institution is a place where people wrestle with ideas and ideals… Nothing like this has ever happened here before.’
Medics attended to Rushdie after the attack, with witnesses saying a man ‘punched and stabbed’ the author as he was announced on stage
His agent, Andrew Wylie, said that the author was currently in surgery for his injuries
He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds. Mr Reese, who was introducing the author, suffered a minor head injury.
Roger Warner was sitting on the front row with his wife. He said he saw a ‘tall, slender man’ jump on to the stage, adding: ‘He [Rushdie] was covered with blood and there was blood running down on to the floor. I just saw blood all around his eyes and running down his cheek.’
Elisabeth Healey, 75, said the assailant ‘ran with lightning speed’ over to the author, while fellow audience member Kathleen Jones said: ‘We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy around this author. But it ‘became evident in a few seconds’ that it wasn’t, she added.
Police remain on the scene outside of the Chautauqua Institution after Rushdie was flown to hospital via air ambulance on Friday afternoon
Dozens of onlookers quickly rushed to the stage to try to apprehend the suspect, and help Rushdie after he was attacked in front of hundreds
The gated Chautauqua Institution, which is near Lake Erie in the south-western corner of New York state, describes itself as a ‘community of artists, educators, thinkers, faith leaders and friends dedicated to exploring the best in humanity’.
It offers arts and literary events and programmes during the summer, of which Rushdie’s address was a highlight.
Rushdie has lived in New York since 2000 and has US citizenship. Asked last year about the longstanding call for his death, he replied: ‘Oh, I have to live my life.’
Ayad Akhtar, president of PEN America, a free expression campaign group at which Sir Salman used to hold the same post, said he had not seen him accompanied by bodyguards in recent years.
However, some of those at yesterday’s event were angry that security hadn’t been tighter.
British-born Booker Prize winning author Sir Salman Rushdie (pictured in 2019) got death threats and was issued a fatwah by Iran for his 1988 novel, the Satanic Verses. He has lived in the U.S. since 2000 and was today preparing to give a lecture about America being a haven for writers in exile
‘I went to the talk to find out why people would want to kill someone for their writing,’ said guest Sam Peters. ‘I don’t know why he wasn’t better protected.’
John Bulette, 85, added: ‘There was a huge security lapse. That somebody could get that close without any intervention was frightening.’
Kyle Doershuk, an usher in the ampitheatre, said security at the institution was lax and there did not appear to be any additional measures in place for Rushdie’s visit.
‘It’s very open, it’s very accessible, it’s a very relaxed environment,’ he said. ‘In my opinion something like this was just waiting to happen.’
The attack sent shockwaves through the literary and political worlds. Boris Johnson said he was ‘appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend’. Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was ‘shocked and appalled to hear of the unprovoked and senseless attack’.
She added: ‘Freedom of expression is a value we hold dear and attempts to undermine it must not be tolerated.’
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries called the attack ‘horrifying’, adding: ‘An awful attack on a literary giant and one of the great defenders of freedom of expression.’
Author JK Rowling said on Twitter: ‘Horrifying news. Feeling very sick right now. Let him be ok,’ while horror writer Stephen King echoed her concern.
PEN America said it was ‘reeling from shock and horror’ at the attack.
‘We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,’ chief executive Suzanne Nossel said.
‘Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered.’
New York governor Kathy Hochul praised the swift response of the authorities to what she called a ‘horrific event’, saying a state trooper ‘stood up and saved his life’.
Muslim societies on both sides of the Atlantic were quick to condemn the attack. The Muslim Council of Britain tweeted: ‘Such violence is wrong and the perpetrator must be brought to justice,’ while Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, added: ‘American Muslims, like all Americans, condemn any violence targeting anyone in our society.’
Markus Dohle, chief executive of Penguin Random House, the author’s publisher, said: ‘We are deeply shocked and appalled to hear of the attack on Salman Rushdie. We condemn this violent public assault, and our thoughts are with Salman and his family at this distressing time.’
A statement from New York State Police said: ‘At about 11 am, a male suspect ran up onto the stage and attacked Rushdie and an interviewer. Rushdie suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck, and was transported by helicopter to an area hospital. The interviewer suffered a minor head injury. A State Trooper assigned to the event immediately took the suspect into custody.’