Indian-born writer Salman Rushdie might lose an eye and his liver has been damaged, his agent Andrew Wylie said after the author was stabbed in New York state earlier Friday. The novelist is reportedly on a ventilator and unable to speak.
The news is not good, Wylie wrote. Salman will probably lose an eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.
Martin Haskell, a physician who was among those who rushed to help, described Rushdie's injuries as serious but recoverable, while event moderator Henry Reese, co-founder of an organization that provides help for writers facing persecution, was also attacked and suffered a minor head injury, police said. Approximately 2,500 people were reportedly in the audience at the time.
Reese was released from hospital Friday afternoon. He and Rushdie were to speak about the United States as a haven for writers and other artists in exile. In an e-mail statement to The New York Times, Reese dubbed Rushdie one of the great defenders of free speech and freedom of creative expression.
The fact that this attack could happen in the United States is indicative of the threats to writers from many governments, and from many individuals and organizations, he added.
New York State Police Spokesman Major Eugene Staniszewski said Rushdie was stabbed once in the neck and once in the abdomen. He also identified the suspect in custody as Hadi Matar, while a motive is yet to be established.
Matar was taken down by members of the audience before the police arrived. The assailant had an admission ticket to the event, as did the rest of the audience. We found a backpack at the scene and mobile devices, Staniszewski added. Authorities are currently working to determine charges against Matar. Officials believe he was acting alone.
“We don’t have any indication of a motive at this time,” Staniszewski told reporters. The suspect was awaiting arraignment Friday and no charges were immediately announced.
Since he wrote The Satanic Verses in the 1980s, there is a US$ 3 million bounty on Rushdie's head. In 1991, two translators involved in the book’s publication abroad were stabbed — one fatally.
Rushdie had been scheduled to speak about the United States as a place for exiled authors “as a home for freedom of expression,” at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, NY, about 55 miles south of Buffalo. After the stabbing, he was transported by helicopter to a hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he underwent surgery.
According to press reports, was sympathetic to the Iranian government, which in 1989 issued a fatwa, or religious edict, under then-their leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini calling for Rushdie’s death over The Satanic Verses.
Matar's backpack was screened by a sheriff’s deputy and K-9 assigned to the event, according to the Buffalo News. The suspect's New Jersey home was swarmed with law enforcement after the stabbing.
Rushdie was forced to live in hiding under the protection of the British government from 1989 until 2002. After years of round-the-clock security, he gradually returned to the public sphere. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2008, and is widely regarded as one of the UK’s greatest living writers.