Minutes after author Salman Rushdie was stabbed on Friday, police took a 24-year-old man into custody. Rushdie, an Indian-origin best-selling author based in the UK, was attacked at a book event at New York’s Chautauqua Institution on Friday evening. Eyewitnesses said the incident occurred minutes after the author took his seat on the stage and was about to be introduced.
The 75-year-old, who was born in Bombay, has faced Islamist death threats for years for writing the novel ‘The Satanic Verses’. The book was banned shortly after publication in several countries, including India, and triggered a fatwa against Rushdie by Iran’s then Supreme Leader.
“A man jumped up on the stage from I don’t know where and started what looked like beating him on the chest, repeated fist strokes into his chest and neck,” Bradley Fisher, who was in the audience, told news agency Reuters. Shortly afterwards, the attacker was taken into police custody. Here’s what we know of him.
Law enforcement officials have identified the attacker as Hadi Matar. The 24-year-old man reportedly hails from New Jersey. An initial sweep of Matar’s social media accounts by law enforcement showed him to be sympathetic to Shia extremism and the causes of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a law enforcement person with direct knowledge of the investigation told NBC News.
Though there are no direct links between Matar and the IRGC, law enforcement officers reportedly found images of slain commander Qassem Solemani and an Iraqi extremist sympathetic to the Iranian regime in a cell phone messaging app belonging to Matar, according to NBC News. Soleimani was a senior Iranian military officer who served in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. From 1998 until his assassination in 2020.
Police did not describe the weapon used. The suspect’s attorney, public defender Nathaniel Barone, said he was still gathering information and declined to comment. Matar’s home was blocked off by authorities.
Police said they have not zeroed in on the motive. “But we are working with the FBI, the Sheriff’s Office and we will determine what the cause of this was and what the motive for this attack was,” said Major Eugene Staniszewski of the New York State Police, reported PTI.
The suspect in Friday’s attack had a “pass to access the grounds,” Dr Michael E Hill, president of the Chautauqua Institution, said in the news conference, reported PTI. Guests can purchase passes to attend programs, Hill said.
How the events unfolded
Staniszewski said at 10.47 am local time (8.17 pm IST), Rushdie had just arrived on stage at the Chautauqua Institution for the event.
“Shortly thereafter, the suspect jumped onto the stage and attacked Rushdie, stabbing him at least once in the neck and at least once in the abdomen,” he said.
Police identified the man who attacked author Salman Rushdie as Hadi Matar. He was arrested at the scene and was awaiting arraignment.
— The Associated Press (@AP) August 12, 2022
Staniszewski said several members of the staff at the institution and audience members rushed the suspect and took him to the ground. A trooper with the New York State Police, who was at the institution, took the suspect into custody with the assistance of a Chautauqua County Sheriff’s deputy.
Photographs showed a man, wearing an army fatigue shirt and jacket and sporting a buzzcut being frog-marched to a police vehicle.
Where is Matar from?
While addressing a press conference, Staniszewski was asked of Matar’s nationality, to which he replied: “I don’t know yet.”
He said authorities are in the “process of obtaining search warrants for various items. There was a backpack located at the scene. There was also electronic devices”. He added that at the moment, it is assumed that the suspect was “working alone”.
Rushdie was provided with immediate help by a doctor who was present in the audience, and was later tended to by the emergency services and airlifted to a hospital, said the police.
(Compiled from Reuters, Associated Press and Press Trust of India reports)