Author Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding and under police protection after Iranian officials called for his execution, was attacked and stabbed in the neck Friday while on stage in Chautauqua, near Erie in western New York. , the state police said.
The attack, which shocked the literary world, happened at about 11 a.m. shortly after Mr. Rushdie took the stage to give a talk at the Chautauqua Institution, a western New York community that offers arts and literary programming during the summer.
Rushdie was taken by helicopter to a local hospital, state police said in a statement. His condition is not yet known. It was not clear what motivated the attacker.
Rita Landman, an endocrinologist sitting in the audience, said Mr Rushdie had multiple stab wounds, including one on the right side of his neck, and that there was a pool of blood under his body. But she said he seemed to be alive. “People said, ‘He’s got a heartbeat, he’s got a heartbeat, he’s got a heartbeat,'” Ms Landman said.
Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive officer of PEN America, which promotes free speech, said that “we cannot think of a comparable incident of a public attack on a literary writer on American soil.”
“A few hours before the attack, on Friday morning, Salman had sent me an email to assist with placements for Ukrainian writers who need a safe haven from the grave dangers they face,” she said in a statement. “Salman Rushdie has been the target of his words for decades, but he never flinched or hesitated.”
Rushdie spent about 10 years under police protection and lived in hiding after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s supreme leader after the 1979 Iranian revolution, called for his execution in 1989 because his novel “The Satanic Verses” was deemed offensive to Islam. The book was banned in India, where he was born, and he was sent out of the country for over ten years.
Mr Rushdie had just taken the stage to deliver the morning talk in the 4,000-seat amphitheater of the Chautauqua Institute, a gated community that hosts art and literary programming every summer, when he was attacked, witnesses said.
He was there to discuss the United States as a safe haven for exiled writers and other artists threatened with persecution. The conversation would be moderated by Henry Reese, the co-founder of a Pittsburgh, City of Asylum, nonprofit, a residency program for exiled writers.
mr. Rushdie had just sat down and was introduced when the attacker stormed onto the stage and attacked him. “I could just see his fists pounding on Salman,” said a witness, Bill Vasu, 72.
Several people rushed to the aid of Mr. Rushdie, Mr. Vasu said, and quickly pinned the attacker to the ground.
A trooper assigned to the event has taken the attacker into custody, police said. The person Mr Rushdie interviewed also suffered a minor head injury.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said on Twitter that she had instructed state police to assist in the investigation and that “Our thoughts are with Salman and his loved ones after this horrific event.”
Several witnesses said the attacker could easily reach Mr Rushdie by running up the stage and approaching him from behind. “There was only one attacker,” 75-year-old Elisabeth Healey said in the audience. “He was dressed in black. He was wearing a loose black robe. He ran towards him at lightning speed.”
“It was very frightening and it gave me a pit in my stomach,” says Jane Bulette, 68, who has been coming for more than a decade. “How could they not have blocked the stairs to the podium?”
“There was a huge security flaw,” said Ms. Bulette’s husband, John, 85, who witnessed the attack. “That someone could get so close without any intervention was terrifying.”
Kyle Doershuk, 20, was working as a usher in the amphitheater at the time of the attack. He said he was about 5 meters away from the attacker when he started running onto the stage with a knife after dropping a backpack. By the time Mr. Doershuk understood that something was going wrong, the attack had begun.
Mr Doershuk said security at the institution is lax and no additional measures appear to have been taken for Mr Rushdie’s visit. “It’s very open, it’s very accessible, it’s a very relaxed environment,” he said. “In my opinion, something like that was just waiting to happen.”
“The Satanic Verses” was considered blasphemous by some Muslims because it made a part of the life of the Prophet Muhammad fictitious. Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 ordering Muslims to kill Mr Rushdie.
The Iranian government publicly supported the fatwa for 10 years, until at least 1998, when Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Iran no longer supported the assassination. But the fatwa remains in effect, reportedly with a bounty from an Iranian religious foundation of about $3.3 million as of 2012.
mr. Rushdie published a memoir, ‘Joseph Anton’, about the fatwa. The title came from the pseudonym he used during his hiding place.
In recent years, Mr. Rushdie has had a more relaxed life in New York City. In 2019, he spoke at a private Manhattan club to promote his novel “Quichotte.” Security at the event was relaxed and Mr Rushdie socialized freely with the guests and then dined with members of the club.