Award-winning author Salman Rushdie, who was stabbed multiple times Friday while on stage at a literary event in rural New York, is on a ventilator and could lose an eye, his agent said.
“The news is not good,” agent Andrew Wylie said in a statement obtained by The New York Times. “Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”
Wylie added that Rushdie could not speak.
Rushdie spent years in hiding after an Iranian fatwa ordered his killing following the publication of his book “The Satanic Verses,” which some Muslims considered to be disrespectful of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.
How did the attack unfold?
The stabbing took place at the Chautauqua Institution, about 55 miles (88 kilometers) southwest of Buffalo in New York state, where Rushdie was due to deliver a lecture on how the United States offers asylum for artists in exile
Witnesses said a man ran to the stage as Rushdie was about to deliver a lecture, before attacking him.
“A man jumped up on the stage from I don’t know where and started what looked like beating him on the chest, repeated fist strokes into his chest and neck,” said Bradley Fisher, who was in the audience. “People were screaming and crying out and gasping.”
A doctor who was in the audience and offered assistance after the attack told the New York Times that he appeared to have multiple stab wounds including one to the right side of his neck, but that he had a pulse and did not require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Images shared by attendees appeared to show Rushdie being treated on stage. He was later airlifted to a local hospital for emergency surgery.
Attacker in custody
The alleged attacker was immediately arrested. Police later identified the suspect as a 24-year-old man from New Jersey. Police said he was tackled by audience members before being taken into custody.
Police also said there were no indications of previous threats, but confirmed the attacker had a pass to attend the event.
“I felt like we needed to have more protection there because Salman Rushdie is not a usual writer,” said Anouar Rahmani, an Algerian writer and human rights activist who was also in the audience. “He’s a writer with a fatwa against him.”
A state trooper and a county sheriff’s deputy had been assigned to watch over the lecture.
Haunted by death threats
Rushdie, 75, has spent years living under a death threat from Iran over his novel “The Satanic Verses.”
In 1989, Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a “fatwa” calling for Rushdie’s death over allegations of blasphemy. Iran’s government has since distanced itself from the edict, but in 2012, 15 Khordad Foundation — a semi-official Iranian religious foundation — offered a $3.3 million (€3.2 million) reward for anyone who kills Rushdie.
In 2016, a group of Iranian state-run media outlets added $600,000 more to that bounty.
Rushdie has received worldwide accolades for his work, including winning the Booker Prize in 1981 for his book “Midnight’s Children.” He was knighted in 2007 for his services to literature.
Rushdie was born into an Indian Muslim family and identifies as an atheist.
After the fatwa was issued, Rushdie went into hiding but has lived openly in recent years.
He obtained US citizenship in 2016 and lives in New York City.
The world reacts
Freedom of expression advocacy group PEN America, of which Rushdie is a former president, said it was “reeling from shock and horror” after the attack.
“Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered,” Suzanne Nossel, PEN’s chief executive, said in the statement
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement that he was appalled that Rushdie, who is a British citizen, was “stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend.”
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said that “hate and barbarism have just struck” Rushdie.
“His fight is ours, universal,” Macron added. “Today, more than ever, we are at his side.”
mm, zc, aw/dj (AP, Reuters, AFP)
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