Author Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding with an Iranian bounty on his head, was stabbed in the neck at a literary event in upstate New York Friday when an assailant stormed the stage soon after his introduction.
Rushdie, who was scheduled to talk at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y., some 75 miles south of Buffalo, was rushed to a nearby hospital by helicopter, the New York State Police said in a statement.
A representative for Rushdie said the author was undergoing surgery Friday afternoon, but did not provide any details about the seriousness of his injuries.
A New York Trooper assigned to the event immediately took the assailant into custody.
Police have made no comment on the attacker’s motive, but in 1989, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.
A witness who was in the audience told The Post that Rushdie tried to run off the stage, and the two men scuffled before audience members rushed onstage to subdue the attacker.
“As this was happening, several members of the crowd were yelling fearfully and saying ‘he’s stabbing him!’” the audience member said.
The witness described the assailant as tall, and wearing a black hat and a mask.
“This guy ran on to platform and started pounding on Mr. Rushdie. At first you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then it became abundantly clear in a few seconds that he was being beaten,” another audience member, Rabbi Charles Savenor said.
Savenor said the attack lasted roughly 20 seconds.
Rushdie, 75, fell through a stage barrier following the attack, and witnesses told the Washington Post that they saw blood on the author’s hand.
Henry Reese, Rushdie’s interviewer for the event and the founder of an organization that works with exiled authors, received a minor head wound in the attack, police said.
Video and photos from the event show blood spatter on the stage backdrop.
Attendees said there was scant security at the event, with nothing more than a ticket check to see the man with a price on his head.
Rushdie has, in the past, shunned a large security team. He called the sizable display of security for his appearance at a 2001 conference in Prague “really unnecessary and kind of excessive.”
Rushdie was treated for apparent injuries on stage prior to being medevaced, and Governor Kathy Hochul said Rushdie was alive and “getting the care he needs.”
Hochul called the attack on Rushdie “heartbreaking.”
She also thanked cops”I want to commend the state police,” she said. “It was a state police officer who stood up and saved his life”
“Here’s an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power, someone who has been out there unafraid, despite the threats that have followed him his entire adult life,” the governor said.
Hochul commended the State Police for their quick response to the attack.
Senator Chuck Schumer called the attack “shocking and appalling.”
It is an attack on freedom of speech and thought, which are two bedrock values of our country and of the Chautauqua Institution,” he said on Twitter. “I hope Mr. Rushdie quickly and fully recovers and the perpetrator experiences full accountability and justice.”
The Chautauqua Institution, located in rural western New York, is a nearly-150-year-old non-profit that produces lectures and educational programming in the arts, education, religion and music.
Rushdie’s Friday talk was billed by the Institute as “a discussion of the United States as [an] asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression.”
Rushdie’s work earned him death threats in the late 1980s, when the Iranian government banned “The Satanic Verses,” which some Muslims consider blasphemous.
The novelist, who was born into a Muslim family in Mumbai, was forced to go into hiding, living under a pseudonym in Great Britian.
Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa called on his followers to kill anyone involved in the book’s publication.
In 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi, the novel’s Japanese translator, was stabbed to death outside of his office at Tsukuba University.
That same month, Ettore Capriolo, the book’s Italian translator, was stabbed at his home in Milan. Capriolo survived the attack.
In 1998 Iranian officials tried to distance themselves from the fatwa. But anti-Rushdie sentiment has reportedly remained high in Iran, and some organizations have continued to call for his death. One group has maintained a $3.3 million bounty on his head, according to Politico.
In recent years Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has stated his support for the fatwa. As recently as 2019, a Twitter account belonging to the Ayatollah was temporarily banned for calling the death edict against Rushdie “solid and irrevocable.”
The assailant’s motive was unclear on Friday, and police have not identified the attacker.
Rushdie has 14 novels and four works of non-fiction to his name. A rock-star of the literary set, he has been knighted for his contributions to literature, and was briefly married to author, model and television host Padma Lakshmi.
Rushdie is also a former president of PEN America, a non-profit dedicated to defending free expression in literature.
“PEN America is reeling from shock and horror at word of a brutal, premeditated attack on our former President and stalwart ally, Salman Rushdie,” the organization’s president Suzzanne Nossel said in a statement.
“Just hours before the attack, on Friday morning, Salman had emailed me to help with placements for Ukrainian writers in need of safe refuge from the grave perils they face,” she added.
“Our thoughts and passions now lie with our dauntless Salman, wishing him a full and speedy recovery. We hope and believe fervently that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced.”