CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. (NewsNation) — Salman Rushdie, the author whose writing led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and abdomen Friday as he was about to give a lecture in western New York.
According to New York State Police, Rushdie was taken by helicopter to the hospital. His agent, Andrew Wylie, said the writer was on a ventilator Friday evening, with a damaged liver, severed nerves in his arm and an eye he was likely to lose.
An Associated Press reporter witnessed a man storming the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and begin punching or stabbing Rushdie as he was being introduced. The author was taken or fell to the floor and a suspect, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, was taken into custody.
Matar is facing attempted murder and assault charges, authorities said. The Associated Press left a message with his lawyer seeking comment.
Authorities said Matar is from Fairview, New Jersey. He was born in the United States to Lebanese parents who emigrated from Yaroun, a border village in southern Lebanon, the mayor of the village, Ali Tehfe, told The Associated Press.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called the news of the attack on Rushdie “heartbreaking” in a statement.
“He is alive. He has been transported, airlifted to safety, but he is an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power,” it read in part.
Rushdie’s book “The Satanic Verses” has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims consider it blasphemous. A year later, Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.
Iran has also offered over $3 million in reward for anyone who kills Rushdie.
Iran’s government has long since distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. In 2012, a semi-official Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty for Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.
Rushdie dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was “no evidence” of people being interested in the reward.
That year, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about the fatwa. The title came from the pseudonym Rushdie had used while in hiding.
Rushdie rose to prominence with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” but his name became known around the world after “The Satanic Verses.”
The Chautauqua Institution, about 55 miles southwest of Buffalo in a rural corner of New York, is known for its summertime lecture series. Rushdie has spoken there before.
“Banfield” spoke Friday with Mona Kolko, an eyewitness to the incident.
“People were horrified. It went from the noise of applause, 2,000 people clapping to people shouting, people hollering, people crying. Stunned. Shocked. What is going on here? What happened here? He is hurt. Something terrible is going on, and we are witnessing this horrible moment,” Kolko said.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s attack, which led an evening news bulletin on Iranian state television.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.