Author Salman Rushdie will likely lose an eye and has suffered severed nerves in an arm and damage to his liver after he was stabbed, his agent has said.
The 75-year-old remains on a ventilator after being airlifted to hospital and undergoing hours of surgery following the attack in New York state.
“The news is not good. Salman will likely lose one eye, the nerves in his arm were severed, and his liver was stabbed and damaged,” Andrew Wylie said in a written statement.
The Indian-born British author, who received death threats after his book The Satanic Verses was published in 1988, was being introduced to the audience ahead of giving a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution, when a man stormed the stage and stabbed or punched him 10 to 15 times, according to witnesses.
As Sir Salman fell to the floor, the man was pinned down by audience members and staff who ran on stage. The suspect was arrested by a state trooper soon after, and is now in custody.
He has been identified as 24-year-old Hadi Matar from Fairview, New Jersey, who bought a pass for the event. Police say they do not yet know a motive for the assault, but they believe the suspect was acting alone.
The Satanic Verses was Sir Salman’s fourth book. It was banned in 1988 in a number of countries with large Muslim populations, including Iran, after it was considered by some to contain blasphemous passages.
In 1989, Iran’s then leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Sir Salman’s death.
The country also offered a bounty of more than $3m for anyone who kills the writer.
The death threats and bounty led Rushdie to go into hiding for nine years under a British government protection programme, which included a round-the-clock armed guard.
Witness to the attack Pilar Pintagro told Sky News: “We were very scared because the first place (he was stabbed) was in the neck and that’s where the blood started to splash everywhere, and then he stabbed him in the shoulders and continued stabbing several times because it was so fast.
“People from the audience actually jumped onto the stage to try to put him down and Salman was trying to walk away from this guy, but he continued stabbing several times, and he was finally pinned down.”
Rushdie continued to write despite threat to life
Salman Rushdie is an Indian-born British author whose writing about religion and politics has made him controversial in some parts of the world.
His first three novels – Grimus (1975), Midnight’s Children (1981) and Shame (1983) – were all met with praise but it was his fourth – The Satanic Verses – that brought criticism.
Some of the scenes in the 1988 book depict a character modelled on the Prophet Muhammad and this was met with anger from some members of the Muslim community in the UK.
Protests spread to Pakistan in January 1989 and the following month, the spiritual leader of revolutionary Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, condemned the book and issued a fatwa against him.
A bounty was offered for his death. Rushdie went into hiding under the protection of Scotland Yard in the UK, although he appeared in public occasionally.
Despite the threat to his life, he continued to write and in 1998 the Iranian government said it would no longer enforce the fatwa. But Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor as Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in 2005 that the fatwa was still valid.
Rushdie wrote about his experience in the third-person memoir Joseph Anton in 2012. He was knighted in 2007, a move that was criticised by the Iranian and Pakistani governments.
The writer was helped by a doctor who was in the audience before emergency services arrived.
Police said the event’s moderator, Henry Reese, suffered a minor head injury after also being attacked.
Another witness Julia Mineeva Braun told Sky News that as Sir Salman was being introduced “all of a sudden from the left-hand side of the stage a short man, (dressed) all in black, ran out, and he approached Mr Rushdie”.
“It was very quick… we thought he was fixing his microphone, and then we saw the knife. He started stabbing him in the neck first… and Mr Rushdie got up and started running. We’re still in shock.”
Sir Salman’s publisher Penguin Random House said they were “deeply shocked” by the incident.
“We condemn this violent public assault, and our thoughts are with Salman and his family at this distressing time.”
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan described the attack as “appalling”, adding: “We’re thankful to good citizens and first responders for helping him so swiftly.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter he was “appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend”.
He added: “Right now my thoughts are with his loved ones. We are all hoping he is okay.”
Sir Salman lives in New York City and became a US citizen in 2016. His lecture was expected to discuss America’s role as an asylum for writers and other artists in exile, and as a home for freedom of creative expression.