A 24-year-old man has been charged with attempted murder of Salman Rushdie after the famed author was attacked and severely wounded onstage at a speaking event in upstate New York.
New York State police said in a statement that they arrested Hadi Matar of Fairview, NJ on Aug. 12 following the incident. He was charged with second-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault, both felonies. Matar was transported to Chautauqua County Jail and is set to be arraigned on Aug. 13, the police said.
The day before, Rushdie, also known as Padma Laksmi‘s ex-husband, appeared at an event at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, NY, as a guest speaker. Matar allegedly “ran up onto the stage” and attacked Rushdie, 75,” who “suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck and chest and was transported by helicopter to an area hospital,” police said in their statement.
The author’s agent, Andrew Wylie, told The New York Times that Rushdie was on a ventilator and could not speak. “The news is not good,” the agent said hours after the attack. “Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”
Police also said in their statement said a New York State trooper arrested Matar after Chautauqua Institution staff members and guests went onstage to help hold him down.
Spectator Kathleen Jones told the Associated Press that the attacker was dressed in black, with a black mask. “We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy around this author,” she said. “But it became evident in a few seconds [that it wasn’t].”
Police are investigating the attack and it is unclear if it was politically motivated. In 1989, Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a religious edict known as a fatwa, calling on Muslims around the world to kill the Indian-born author over his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, which the supreme leader condemned as blasphemous.
A preliminary law enforcement review of Matar’s social media accounts shows he is sympathetic to Shia extremism and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps causes, a law enforcement person with direct knowledge of the investigation told NBC News.
Rushdie went into hiding for several years after the fatwa was issued against him and Iran’s government officially maintained it after the Ayatollah’s death until 1998. The writer later resumed his public appearances, wrote about his fatwa in his 2012 memoir Joseph Anton and even poked fun at it with Larry David on season nine of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2017.
However, the fatwa against Rushdie has remained in place, with a bounty attached from a semiofficial Iranian religious foundation, The New York Times reported. On Aug. 13, several hardline Iranian newspapers praised Rushdie’s attacker, Reuters said.
In addition to Rushdie, event moderator Ralph Henry Reese, co-founder of the Pittsburgh nonprofit City of Asylum, was also wounded in the attack. The 73-year-old suffered a minor head injury, police said.
“Salman Rushdie is one of the great authors of our time and one of the great defenders of freedom of speech and freedom of creative expression,” he said in a statement released on Twitter by PEN America, a press freedom group of which he serves on an advisory committee. “We revere him and our paramount concern is for his life.”
(E! and NBC News are part of the NBCUniversal family.)
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