Published On: Fri, Aug 12th, 2022

Author Salman Rushdie stabbed on stage before a lecture in New York

Famed author Salman Rushdie, who has endured death threats from extremists for decades, was stabbed Friday before a scheduled lecture in western New York, authorities said.

A man stormed the stage at the Chautauqua Institution, about 70 miles south of Buffalo, at about 11 a.m. and attacked the 75-year-old Rushdie and an interviewer, New York State Police Maj. Eugene J. Staniszewski said in a statement.

“Rushdie suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck, and was transported by helicopter to an area hospital. His condition is not yet known,” according to the statement.

The interviewer suffered a minor head injury, officials said.

A state trooper assigned to the event immediately took the suspect into custody. His name was not released.

The suspect immediately asked to be represented by an attorney, law enforcement sources said. Investigators took his fingerprints and employed facial recognition technology, but could not immediately ID him, those sources said.

Rushdie is best known for “The Satanic Verses,” which has been banned in Iran and is considered by some Muslims to be blasphemous.

NBC News has reached out to his representatives for comment.

Rushdie was seated on stage being introduced when a young man in all black approached him, took out a knife and stabbed him directly in the neck, said witness Julia Mineeva-Braun, who was seated in the fifth row.

Mineeva-Braun, who teaches Russian at State University of New York at Fredonia, said she originally thought the attacker was a stage hand helping Rushdie with sound.

“From the (audience’s) left there’s a guy running, dressed up in black, and he came and I was thinking he was fixing Mr. Rushdie’s microphone because he was getting to his neck,” Mineeva-Braun, 47, told NBC News.

“Then and all of a sudden we see the knife and the first stab was right into the artery, into his neck, and then several stabs a little bit lower into the shoulder blade.”

The stabbing unfolded and ended in seconds, as Rushdie tried to flee his attacker and they both fell just feet behind the chairs as audience members flooded the stage to help the writer and pin the assailant, Mineeva-Braun said.

“He didn’t say a word, he didn’t say anything,” Mineeva-Braun said of the attacker, who appeared to be a young man in his 20s.

Rushdie appeared to be conscious and speaking to first responders, according to the witness.

Rushdie is one of the most acclaimed novelists in contemporary literature, celebrated for his provocative mix of magical realism and historical allegory.

In books such as “Midnight’s Children” and the infamous “The Satanic Verses,” Rushdie dazzled readers with his energetic prose style and impressed critics with his thematic ambition.

“Midnight’s Children,” published in 1981, earned him the prestigious Booker Prize.

“The Satanic Verses,” featuring a character based on the Islamic prophet Muhammad, outraged much of the Muslim world when it was published in the late 1980s, inspiring protests and leading Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa, or edict, calling for his death.

The firestorm forced Rushdie to go into hiding for many years.

Friday’s attack happened at about 8 p.m. local time in Tehran and it was widely reported on Iranian state media.

In those reports, Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” and that the fatwa had been ordered were prominently mentioned.

But there was no immediate, official statement from Tehran, regarding the attack.

The stabbing prompted swift reactions from the political and literary worlds.

State Sen. George Borrello, who represents the region where Friday’s attack happened, recalled purchasing “The Satanic Verses” when it was originally published as a “show of support for Mr. Rushdie and for the basic human right of free speech.”

“This shocking attack on a celebrated and noted author, apparently prompted by fundamentalist extremism, has no place in America,” Borrello said in a statement. “There is no room, in a free society, for beliefs that demand you kill someone who disagrees with you.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the “attack is 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 in a statement. “I hope Mr. Rushdie quickly and fully recovers and the perpetrator experiences full accountability and justice.”

In a statement, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said: “He is an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power. Someone who’s been out there unafraid despite the threats that have followed him his entire adult life… We are undeterred in our commitment to make sure that we call it out, we condemn what happened, we condemn all violence, and we want people to feel that freedom to speak and to write truth.”

Nadine Dorries, the United Kingdom’s culture secretary, also condemned the attack on Sir Salman Rushdie, calling it, “Horrifying.”

“An awful attack on a literary giant and one of the great defenders of freedom of expression,” Dorries said.

Rushdie was scheduled to appear on Friday alongside Henry Reese, co-founder of the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit City of Asylum, which supporters writers living in exile.

The Chautauqua Institution cancelled its programs for the rest of Friday following the attack. A City of Asylum representative could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.

PEN America, a New York City nonprofit group that defends literary freedom, said it’s “deeply concerned” about the attack on Rushdie, a former group president.

“PEN America is reeling from shock and horror at the word of a brutal, premeditated attack on our former President and stalwart ally, Salman Rushdie,” according to a statement from PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel.

“We can think of no comparable incident of a public attack on a literary writer on American soil. 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. Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered.”

Rushdie in 2012 published “Joseph Anton: A Memoir,” recounting his years since the fatwa was issued.

Though it wasn’t immediately clear what the attacker’s motive was, New York-based Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad called the stabbing “barbaric.”

“You can kill us but you cannot kill the idea of writing & fighting for our dignity,” she said in a statement. “I condemn the barbaric attack on Salman Rushdie. After surviving a kidnapping and an assassination plot in New York, I won’t feel safe on US soil until the US take strong action against terror.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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