Salman Rushdie attack: What we know so far

Author Rushdie is on a ventilator and could lose an eye following a stabbing attack at a literary event in New York state.

In this file photo taken on November 16, 2012, British author Salman Rushdie takes part in the TV show.
Rushdie was forced into hiding in 1989 after his book The Satanic Verses was denounced by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini [File: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP]

Author Salman Rushdie, who was stabbed on Friday at a literary event in New York state, is on a ventilator and unable to speak.

He also suffered a wound to his liver and might lose an eye in the wake of the knife attack, according to his agent.

The Indian-born British author was forced into hiding in 1989 after his book The Satanic Verses was denounced by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Many considered the book blasphemous in its portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad. The book was banned in several countries.

Rushdie rose to prominence in 1981 when his second novel, Midnight’s Children, won the Booker Prize.

The author, who currently lives in the United States, had lived under police protection because of threats to his life.

What happened?

  • Police confirmed Rushdie was stabbed “at least once in the neck, and at least once in the abdomen” on Friday after an assailant rushed to the stage and lunged at the 75-year-old writer just as he was being introduced to the audience.
  • Stacey Schlosser, who witnessed the attack, said Rushdie was stabbed six to eight times before the attacker was restrained. “Nobody knew what to do. Nobody knew how to react. I mean, there were tons of people that rushed the stage,” Schlosser said.
  • “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.”
  • Stunned attendees helped pull the man off Rushdie, who had fallen to the floor.
  • A New York state police officer providing security at the event arrested the attacker, while a doctor in the audience helped look after Rushdie until emergency services arrived.
Salman Rushdie
Rushdie, 75, was propelled into the spotlight with his second novel Midnight’s Children in 1981, which won international praise and Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for its portrayal of post-independence India

What is Rushdie’s condition?

  • After being airlifted to the hospital where he spent hours in surgery, Rushdie has been on a ventilator and unable to speak.
  • “The news is not good,” Andrew Wylie, his book agent, wrote in an email to the Reuters news agency. “Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”
Salman Rushdie
Rushdie holds up a copy of his book The Satanic Verses at Freedom Forum in Arlington, Virginia in March 1992 [File: Ron Edmonds/AP Photo]

Who is the attacker?

  • Police identified the suspect as 24-year-old Hadi Matar from New Jersey.
  • Major Eugene Staniszewski of New York state police told reporters that officials do not have “any indication of a motive” at this “very early” stage of the investigation.
  • The New York state police said they believed that Matar was acting alone.
Author Salman Rushdie is tended to after he was attacked
Rushdie is tended to after he was attacked during a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York [File: Joshua Goodman/AP Photo]

Why was he in hiding?

  • Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses was banned in Iran and some other countries as many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous.
  • In 1989, Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued an edict calling for Rushdie’s death.
  • Iran’s government has since distanced itself from the decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. “The fatwa belongs to the Ayatollah and cannot be rescinded by the state according to Iranian practice,” Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, told Al Jazeera.
  • In 2012, a semi-official Iranian religious foundation had increased the amount on offer for the writer’s killing from $2.8m to $3.3m.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies