Salman Rushdie is attacked onstage in Western New York.

CHAUTAUQUA, NY – Salman Rushdie spent years in hiding after Iran’s leader called for his death following the publication of his novel “Verses of Satan”. But in recent years, declaring “Oh, I have to live my life,” he re-entered society, making frequent public appearances around New York City with no apparent security.

On Friday morning, any feeling that threats to his life were a thing of the past were gone when an assailant stormed the stage of the Chautauqua Institute here, West New York, where Mr. will talk about the United States as a safe haven for writers in exile. Police and witnesses said the attacker stabbed Mr Rushdie, 75, in the stomach and neck, trying to continue the attack even as several people held him back.

Mr. Rushdie was airlifted to a nearby hospital in Erie, Pa., where he underwent surgery for several hours on Friday afternoon. Mr Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie, said Friday evening that Mr Rushdie was on a ventilator and was unable to speak.

“Not good news,” Wylie said in an email. “Salman will probably lose an eye; the nerves in his arm had been severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged. “

Major Eugene J. Staniszewski of the New York State Police identified the suspect in the attack as Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old New Jersey man who was arrested at the scene, but at a news conference late on Wednesday afternoon. Six said that no. sign of an engine.

He said police are working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the local sheriff’s office and that investigators are in the process of obtaining a warrant to search a backpack and electronic devices found at the hospital. .

The attack stunned onlookers, who had gathered in the 4,000-seat amphitheater at Chautauqua Institution, a summer destination for literary and artistic programs.

Linda Abrams, who attended the speech in the front row, said: “It took five men to pull him away and he was still stabbing. “He was just very angry, angry. Like extremely powerful and fast. “

Others described blood running down Mr Rushdie’s cheeks and pooling on the floor. One attending physician, Rita Landman, said Mr Rushdie appeared to have multiple stab wounds, including one on the right side of his neck, but bystanders said, “he has a pulse, he has a pulse.”

Ralph Henry Reese, 73, who was on stage with Mr Rushdie to moderate the discussion, suffered facial injuries in the attack and was released from the hospital Friday afternoon, police said.

The brazen attack on Mr Rushdie has shaken the literary world. “We cannot think of an overt attack on a writer on American soil,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, which promotes free speech.

After being released from the hospital, Mr Reese said in a statement that Mr Rushdie was “one of the great authors of our time and one of the great defenders of freedom of expression and freedom of the press”. creative present”.

“We revere him and our primary concern is his life,” Mr. Reese said. “The fact that this attack was possible in the United States is indicative of threats to writers from multiple governments and from many individuals and organisations.”

Mr. Rushdie has actually been living a death sentence since 1989, about six months after the publication of his novel “Verses of Satan”, which fictionalized portions of the Prophet Muhammad’s life with descriptions that many Muslims consider offensive and which some consider blasphemous. .

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, issued a religious decree known as a fatwa on February 14, 1989, ordering Muslims to kill Mr. Rushdie. A price placed on his head was several million dollars. Mr Rushdie, who lived in London at the time, went into hiding and moved into a fortified safe house under British police protection for nearly 10 years.

At about 10:47 a.m. Friday, Mr. Rushdie sat down on stage with the panelist, Mr. Reese, co-founder of the Pittsburgh nonprofit, City of Asylum, a residency program for young people. writer in exile, when a man Police and several witnesses said rushed onto the stage and attacked Mr. Rushdie. The audience gasped and stood up.

Mary Newsom, who attended the presentation, said that at first some thought it might be a stuntman. “Then it became clear that it was clearly not a stuntman,” she said.

Several witnesses said the attacker was able to reach Mr Rushdie easily, running across the stage and approaching him from behind. Chuck Koch, a lawyer from Ohio who owns a home in Chautauqua, sat in the second row and ran across the stage to help subdue the attacker. Mr Koch said that several people worked to separate the attacker from Mr Rushdie, and they were able to do so before a uniformed officer arrived and tied the attacker to handcuffs.

As the attacker was being restrained, another attendee, Bruce Johnson, saw a knife fall to the floor, he said.

Michael Hill, chairman of Chautauqua, said at a press conference Friday afternoon that Mr Matar had access to the foundation’s grounds like any typical patron.

The attack has been criticized by literary figures and public officials. Markus Dohle, chief executive officer of Penguin Random House, Mr Rushdie’s publisher, said in a statement, “We are deeply shocked and appalled to learn of the attack.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a post on Twitter that he was “appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed while exercising a right we should never stop defending.”

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said on Twitter: “Today’s attack on Salman Rushdie is also an attack on some of our most sacred values ​​- freedom of expression.”

Even before its broadcast, “Verses of Satan” were banned in several countries, including Bangladesh, Sudan, Sri Lanka and India, where Mr. Rushdie was born. He was banned from the country for over a decade.

Following that statement, a half-hearted apology from Mr. Rushdie, which he later regretted, was rejected by Iran.

Many people died in protests against its publication, including 12 during a Mumbai riot in February 1989 and another 6 during another riot in Islamabad. Books were burned, and there were raids on bookstores. People connected to the book are also targeted.

In July 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi, the novel’s Japanese translator, was stabbed to death and its Italian translator, Ettore Capriolo, was seriously injured. In October 1993, William Nygaard, the publisher of the novel in Norway, was shot three times outside his home in Oslo and seriously injured.

Fatwa was maintained by the Iranian government after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini for almost a decade, until 1998, when Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who is considered relatively liberal, said that Iran no longer supported the case. killing. But Fatwa remained in place, allegedly with an attached bounty from an Iranian religious foundation of about $3.3 million in 2012.

In an interview with The Sunday Times in 1995, it was not long before Mr Rushdie made his first scheduled public appearance since a meeting of the fatwa – a council in London where he discussed the novel. new theory, “The Moor’s Last Sigh” – the author talked about his return to writing after the conflict over “Verses of Satan.”

“Writing this was a very important step for me,” he said in that interview. “I spent two and a half years talking to politicians, which is not my favorite profession. Then I realized how foolish it was to let this dissenting business get in the way of the work I love most. I wanted to prove to myself that I could take what happened to me and get over it. And now, at least, I feel that I have. “

Since then, Mr. Rushdie has published eight novels and a 2012 memoir.Joseph Anton, “About fatwa. The film’s title comes from the pseudonym he used while in hiding, taken from the first names of Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.

In recent years, Mr. Rushdie has preferred a more public life in New York City. In 2019, he spoke at a private club in Manhattan to promote his novel, “Quichotte.” Security at the event was eased, Mr. Rushdie freely mingled with the guests and then dined with members of the club.

Iran has yet to officially comment on the attack against the author.

But government supporters took to social media to praise the stabbing of Mr Rushdie as ayatollah’s attack finally came to fruition. Some expect him to die. Some warn that a similar fate awaits other enemies of the Islamic Republic.

A quote by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a few years ago was widely shared, in which he said the match against Mr Rushdie “was fired like a bullet that didn’t rest until it hit the target.”

Ayad Akhtar, a writer and president of PEN America, who is friends with Mr. Rushdie and considers “Verses of Satan” a “key moment” in modern literary history, said he has never see Mr. Rushdie carrying any security details. , whether at the theater, out to dinner, or at a public event. Mr. Rushdie seemed completely at ease in real life, he said.

Jay Root report from Chautauqua, NY, David Gelles from Putnam Valley, NY, Elizabeth A. Harris and Julia Jacobs from New York City. Additional reporting contributed by Steven Erlanger, Farnaz Fassihi, Jonah E. Bromwich and Edmund Lee.

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