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Agent: Rushdie off ventilator and talking one day after attack

(NewsNation) — Salman Rushdie was taken off a ventilator and able to talk Saturday, a day after he was stabbed as he prepared to give a lecture in upstate New York.

Rushdie remained hospitalized with serious injuries, but fellow author Aatish Taseer tweeted in the evening that he was “off the ventilator and talking (and joking).” Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie, confirmed that information without offering further details.

The man accused in the stabbing attack of famed author Rushdie pleaded not guilty Saturday after being charged with second-degree attempted murder and assault.

An attorney for Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, entered the plea on his behalf during an arraignment in western New York. 

A judge ordered him held without bail after District Attorney Jason Schmidt told her Matar took steps to purposely put himself in position to harm Rushdie, getting an advance pass to the event where the author was speaking and arriving a day early bearing a fake ID.

“This was a targeted, unprovoked, preplanned attack on Mr. Rushdie,” Schmidt said.

Charges against Matar could be upgraded if Rushdie’s condition worsens.

Matar 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.

The stabbing happened at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York, where Rushdie was set to give a lecture.

Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, and was on a ventilator and unable to speak, his agent Andrew Wylie said Friday evening. Rushdie was likely to lose the injured eye.

In a statement issued Saturday, President Joe Biden said he and first lady Jill Biden were shocked and saddened to learn of the attack.

“Salman Rushdie — with his insight into humanity, with his unmatched sense for story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced — stands for essential, universal ideals,” the president’s statement said. “Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society.”

Salman Rushdie, seen here at the 68th National Book Awards Ceremony in 2017, was stabbed at a speaking engagement on Friday. 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, according to his agent. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

An Associated Press reporter witnessed a man storming the stage and begin attacking Rushdie as he was being introduced. The author was then taken to or fell to the floor.

According to New York State Police, Rushdie was taken by helicopter to the hospital.

Event moderator Henry Reese, 73, a co-founder of an organization that offers residencies to writers facing persecution, was also attacked. Reese suffered a facial injury and was treated and released from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie had planned to discuss the United States as a refuge for writers and other artists in exile.

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.

Khomeini died the same year he issued the fatwa, which remains in effect. Iran’s current supreme leader, Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, never issued a fatwa of his own, withdrawing the edict.

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.

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,” Kolko said. “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.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Author Salman Rushdie is tended to after he was attacked during a lecture, Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York. (AP Photo/Joshua Goodman)

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