After author Salman Rushdie was stabbed on Friday at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York, state and federal investigators were trying to determine the suspect’s motivation, plans, communication and movements as Rushdie remained in a precarious condition on Saturday.
Rushdie, who had spent decades under proscription by Iran, was on a ventilator after undergoing hours of surgery and could not speak, Andrew Wylie, his agent, said.
Wylie said on Friday that the author’s condition was “not good”. Rushdie might lose an eye, his liver had been damaged and the nerves in his arm were severed, he said.
Antonio Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, said on Saturday that he was appalled by the attack on the author, who decades ago became a symbol of freedom of expression in the face of repression.
“In no case is violence a response to words spoken or written by others in their exercise of the freedoms of opinion and expression,” Guterres said in a statement.
The New York State Police said at a news conference on Friday afternoon that there was no indication of a motive, but that they were working with the FBI.
Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old New Jersey man, was arrested at the scene and charged with attempted murder and assault, the New York State Police said. He is being held at the Chautauqua County Jail, where he was to be arraigned on Saturday, according to officials.
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.
A video on TikTok that was subsequently taken down showed the chaotic scene on Friday, moments after the attacker had jumped onto the stage at the normally placid centre for intellectual discourse. Rushdie, who had been living relatively openly after years of a semi-clandestine existence, had just taken a seat to give a talk when a man attacked him.
A crowd of people immediately rushed to where the author lay on the stage to offer aid. Stunned members of the audience could be seen throughout the amphitheater. While some were screaming, others got up and moved slowly toward the stage. People started to congregate in the aisles. A person could be heard yelling “Oh, my God” repeatedly.
A sheriff’s deputy and another law enforcement officer with a dog ran to the scene about a minute later.
In a statement on Friday, the US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called the attack against Rushdie “reprehensible”. “This act of violence is appalling,” he said.
The state police did not provide an update on Rushdie’s condition on Saturday morning. A spokeswoman for a hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania, where Rushdie is being treated, said it would not provide information on patient conditions.
At a house listed as Matar’s residence in Fairview, New Jersey, no one answered the door on Saturday morning. A woman in a gray Jeep Rubicon in the driveway kept her windows up, waving off reporters as she sped away. Many of Matar’s neighbours said they did not know him.
Antonio Lopa, who lives across the street from Matar, said he saw between 10 and 15 FBI agents outside Matar’s home on Friday afternoon. They stayed until nearly 1.30 am, he said.
Officials said at a news conference on Friday that they were working to get search warrants for a backpack and electronic devices that were found at the institution.
Rushdie had been living under the threat of an assassination attempt since 1989, about six months after the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses. The book was thought of as blasphemous by some Muslims. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led Iran after its 1979 revolution, issued a fatwa on February 14, 1989. It ordered Muslims to kill Rushdie.
In 1991, the novel’s Japanese translator was stabbed to death and its Italian translator was badly wounded. The novel’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times in 1993 outside his home in Oslo and was seriously injured.
(With inputs from AP)