A suspect was taken into custody shortly afterwards and authorities are working to determine the motive and charges, state police said.
After the attack, questions were raised about security measures — or lack thereof — at the host facility, which is located in a rural lakeside resort about 70 miles south of Buffalo, New York.
According to two sources who spoke to DailyExpertNews, the institution’s leadership had rejected recommendations for basic security measures, including bag checks and metal detectors, fearing it would create a divide between speakers and audience. The leadership also feared it would change the culture in the institution, the sources said.
The two sources have direct knowledge of the security situation at the Chautauqua Institution and previous recommendations and spoke to DailyExpertNews on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly.
It is unclear whether the recommended measures would have prevented the attack on Rushdie based on information released about the incident Friday night. Authorities have not disclosed what type of weapon was used in the attack.
There were no security screenings or metal detectors at the event, a person who witnessed the attack told DailyExpertNews. The witness has not been identified as they were concerned for their personal safety.
DailyExpertNews contacted the Chautauqua Institute and its leadership for comment, but received no response Friday.
Institution president Michael Hill defended his organization’s security plans when asked at a news conference on Friday whether more precautions would be taken at future events.
“We review for each event what we think is the right level of security, and this was definitely one that we thought was important, which is why we had a State Trooper and Sheriff there,” Hill said. “We will assess what we believe is the appropriate level of security for each of the events at the facility and that is an ongoing process that we are working on with local law enforcement.”
Henry Reese, co-founder of the Pittsburgh nonprofit City of Asylum, was also injured Friday, who police said would join Rushdie in a discussion. He was taken to a hospital and treated for a facial injury and released.
Reese sits on the advisory committee of press freedom group PEN America, which tweeted from him late Friday: “Salman Rushdie is one of the great authors of our time and one of the great defenders of freedom of speech and the freedom of creative expression.”
Reese added: “We revere him and our greatest concern is for his life. The fact that this attack could take place in the United States is an indication of the threats facing writers from many governments and from many individuals and organizations. Salman’s wishes as Americans and global citizens, we must renew our commitment to defending the values that Salman has championed.”
The late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who described the book as an affront to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, issued a religious decree or fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.
Authorities were connected to suspect in New Jersey’s home
The suspect in the attack was identified as Hadi Matar of Fairview, New Jersey, New York State Forces Commander Major Eugene J. Staniszewski said at a news conference Friday night.
The attack happened around 10:45 a.m. when Rushdie was introduced, a witness told DailyExpertNews. A man in a black shirt appeared to “beat” the author. The witness, who was about 75 feet from the stage, did not hear the attacker say anything or see a weapon.
Another witness, Joyce Lussier, was sitting in the second row when she saw a man who “swung across the stage and headed straight for Mr. Rushdie.
“He got to the left and jumped across the podium and just jumped to him. Inside, I don’t know, two seconds he was over that podium,” said Lussier. She heard people screaming and crying and saw people running from the audience to the stage, she said.
Matar, 24, allegedly stabbed Rushdie at least once in the neck and at least once in the abdomen, state police said. Staff and onlookers rushed to the attacker and laid him on the ground before a state agent took him into custody, police said.
On Friday night, police had cordoned off the street to the New Jersey home suspected of being related to the suspect.
Iran’s bounty has never been lifted
Rushdie, the son of a successful Muslim businessman in India, was educated in England, first at Rugby School and later at Cambridge University, where he obtained a master’s degree in history.
After college, he started working as a copywriter for advertisements in London, before publishing his first novel, Grimus, in 1975.
In 1989, as a result of the fatwa, Rushdie began a decade under British protection.
Rushdie told DailyExpertNews in 1999 that the experience had taught him “to appreciate even more… the things I used to appreciate before, like the art of literature and the freedom of speech and the right to say things that other people don’t like.
“It may have been an unpleasant decade, but it was the right fight, you know. It was fighting for the things I believe in most against things I hate most, which is bigotry and fanaticism and censorship.”
The bounty against Rushdie has never been lifted, although in 1998 the Iranian government tried to distance itself from the fatwa by promising not to implement it.
Despite this, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently reaffirmed the religious edict.
In February 2017, the Supreme Leader was asked on Khamenei’s official website whether the “fatwa against Rushdie was still in effect”, to which Khamenei confirmed: “The decree is as issued by Imam Khomeini.”
Ray Sanchez, Adam Thomas, Kristina Sgueglia, Samantha Beech, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Liam Reilly, David Romain, Nicki Brown, Mark Morales, Christina Maxouris, Jonny Hallam and Artemis Moshtaghian of DailyExpertNews contributed to this report.