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20 seconds of horror: How hundreds of people gasped as they watched masked knifeman leap on stage

Sir Salman Rushdie was undergoing emergency surgery last night and will ‘likely lose an eye’ after being stabbed up to 15 times in the neck in front of a horrified audience in America.

The celebrated author, who has faced Islamist death threats for three decades after writing The Satanic Verses, was knifed by an attacker who came out of the audience as he was about to give a lecture in western New York state.

After being helped from the stage, Rushdie was rushed to hospital by air ambulance and put on a ventilator, with severed nerves in one arm and damage to his liver and the outlook grim for one of his eyes, according to his agent.

‘The news is not good,’ agent Andrew Wylie said in a written statement. ‘Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.’ 

Witnesses saw the alleged knifeman, named last night as Hadi Matar, 24, from New Jersey, strike ‘ten to 15 times’ in a matter of seconds before Rushdie, 75, fell to the floor covered in blood.

The attacker, clad in black and wearing a black mask, stormed the stage at the Chautauqua Institution as the writer was being introduced to a cultural festival before giving a speech about artistic free expression.

Hundreds of people in the audience gasped and blood spatter could be seen on the stage and surrounding furniture. The Booker Prize-winning author was surrounded by staff and audience members, some of them holding up his legs in an apparent effort to send more blood to his chest.

This labelled timeline of images shows Rushdie on stage before the attack happens, then the response, the arrest of assailant Hadi Matar, 24, and subsequent air ambulance

On stage at the lecture theatre: Man thought to be Sir Salman Rushdie is seen on the left at the the Chautauqua Institution

On stage at the lecture theatre: Man thought to be Sir Salman Rushdie is seen on the left at the the Chautauqua Institution

Helpers cradle the wounded author: Satanic Verse author Salman Rushdie is helped by people after he was stabbed on stage

Suspect held down on stage: A police officer and another man are seen holding someone down on the stage - thought to be Matar

Suspect held down on stage: A police officer and another man are seen holding someone down on the stage – thought to be Matar 

The suspect, Matar, is seen on the left being manhandled away by three men while a group gather around the wounded Rushdie to the right

The suspect, Matar, is seen on the left being manhandled away by three men while a group gather around the wounded Rushdie to the right

He is taken away by police: The man is put into a cop car and is still in custody after the attack on Salman Rushdie

He is taken away by police: The man is put into a cop car and is still in custody after the attack on Salman Rushdie

Blood spatters a screen near speakers: It is on the wall behind where Rushdie had been attacked, with some also seen on a chair

Blood spatters a screen near speakers: It is on the wall behind where Rushdie had been attacked, with some also seen on a chair

Sir Salman Rushdie was put on a stretcher and airlifted to hospital after the shocking stabbing this morning

Sir Salman Rushdie was put on a stretcher and airlifted to hospital after the shocking stabbing this morning

Rushdie has previously received death threats for his writing, with his book the Satanic Verses sparking protests in 1988

British-born Booker Prize winning author Sir Salman Rushdie (pictured in 2019) got death threats and was issued a fatwah by Iran for his 1988 novel, the Satanic Verses. He has lived in the U.S. since 2000 and was today preparing to give a lecture about America being a haven for writers in exile

Security guards and audience members pinned down the attacker on stage as the audience was asked to quietly leave the amphitheatre after the horrific incident at 11am local time.

A New York state trooper arrested the suspect and he was taken away by police. Officials would not speculate on the motive.

Although Rushdie was rushed to hospital by helicopter after being put on a stretcher, he was able to walk off the stage with help from others about five minutes after the attack.

His agent Andrew Wylie said his client and friend went into surgery immediately after landing at the medical facility.

Rushdie, who now lives in New York, spent years living in hiding under British police protection after Ayatollah Khomeini called for his execution, issuing a 1989 fatwa against him on the grounds that his novel The Satanic Verses was blasphemous.

Many Muslims claimed the novel depicted Muhammad irreverently and it sparked rioting and the burning of bookshops around the world.

The fatwa covered others connected to The Satanic Verses and Hitoshi Igarashi, the book’s Japanese translator, was stabbed to death in 1991.

Rushdie still has a £2.7 million bounty on his head but audience members in Chautauqua, near Buffalo, said security at the event was lax and there were no searches. Rushdie, who has spoken there before without incident, did not appear to have any bodyguards with him.

Rita Landman, an endocrinologist who was in the audience, said she went on to the stage to offer medical assistance.

People rushed to assist the author after the attack, with the attacker being restrained by witnesses.  The motive for the stabbing is currently unknown

People rushed to assist the author after the attack, with the attacker being restrained by witnesses.  The motive for the stabbing is currently unknown

Salman Rushdie, 75, was attacked by a man who approached him from behind before stabbing him multiple times. The suspect, pictured with Sheriff deputies, was quickly pinned to the floor before being arrested

Salman Rushdie, 75, was attacked by a man who approached him from behind before stabbing him multiple times. The suspect, pictured with Sheriff deputies, was quickly pinned to the floor before being arrested

Rushdie was airlifted to hospital after receiving medical assistance from those at the event near Buffalo, in Upstate New York

Rushdie was airlifted to hospital after receiving medical assistance from those at the event near Buffalo, in Upstate New York 

Rushdie was attacked on stage ahead of his speech in Chautauqua, near Buffalo, with witnesses claiming that he was 'punched and stabbed'

Rushdie was attacked on stage ahead of his speech in Chautauqua, near Buffalo, with witnesses claiming that he was ‘punched and stabbed’

Medics attended to Rushdie after the attack, with witnesses saying a man 'punched and stabbed' the author as he was announced on stage

Medics attended to Rushdie after the attack, with witnesses saying a man ‘punched and stabbed’ the author as he was announced on stage

She said Rushdie had multiple stab wounds, including one to the right side of his neck, and there was a pool of blood under his body. But she said he was not receiving CPR.

‘People were saying, ‘He has a pulse, he has a pulse, he has a pulse’,’ she told the New York Times.

Many witnesses initially thought the assailant was simply punching the writer rather than stabbing him, so relentless was the attack.

Rabbi Charles Savenor, who was in the audience to hear Rushdie talk about cities that offer asylum for persecuted writers, said the attack happened ‘in a blink’ as the writer and his host, Henry Reese, sat down.

‘I was sitting around 50ft away so I didn’t see whether he was punching him or if he had a blade, but all I saw was the arm going up and down, up and down,’ he said.

‘People were deeply in shock. Chautauqua Institution is a place where people wrestle with ideas and ideals… Nothing like this has ever happened here before.’

State Trooper James O¿Callaghan said that the author remained in surgery for his injuries, and that they were unable to give an update on his condition

State Trooper James O’Callaghan said that the author remained in surgery for his injuries, and that they were unable to give an update on his condition

A Homeland Security Investigations Police officer enters the building where Salman Rushdie's alleged attacker Hadi Matar, lives in Fairview, New Jersey

A Homeland Security Investigations Police officer enters the building where Salman Rushdie’s alleged attacker Hadi Matar, lives in Fairview, New Jersey

New Jersey Police officers stand guard near the building where alleged attacker Hadi Matar, lives in Fairview, New Jersey

New Jersey Police officers stand guard near the building where alleged attacker Hadi Matar, lives in Fairview, New Jersey

His agent, Andrew Wylie, said that the author was currently in surgery for his injuries

His agent, Andrew Wylie, said that the author was currently in surgery for his injuries

He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds. Mr Reese, who was introducing the author, suffered a minor head injury.

Roger Warner was sitting on the front row with his wife. He said he saw a ‘tall, slender man’ jump on to the stage, adding: ‘He [Rushdie] was covered with blood and there was blood running down on to the floor. I just saw blood all around his eyes and running down his cheek.’

Elisabeth Healey, 75, said the assailant ‘ran with lightning speed’ over to the author, while fellow audience member Kathleen Jones said: ‘We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy around this author. But it ‘became evident in a few seconds’ that it wasn’t, she added.

Police remain on the scene outside of the Chautauqua Institution after Rushdie was flown to hospital via air ambulance on Friday afternoon

Police remain on the scene outside of the Chautauqua Institution after Rushdie was flown to hospital via air ambulance on Friday afternoon 

Dozens of onlookers quickly rushed to the stage to try to apprehend the suspect, and help Rushdie after he was attacked in front of hundreds

Dozens of onlookers quickly rushed to the stage to try to apprehend the suspect, and help Rushdie after he was attacked in front of hundreds

Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie spent years in hiding after being issued ‘spiritual’ death threat by Iran

Sir Salman Rushdie is a Booker Prize-winning author and novelist.

The 75-year-old was born in India, and his writing is often based around the themes of connections and migrations between Western and Eastern civilizations.

He won the Booker Prize in 1981 for his second novel, Midnight’s Children. His writing has spawned 30 book-length studies, and over 700 articles on his writing.

Rushdie’s writings have broadly been acclaimed to the genres of magical realism and historical fiction.

He has been living in the US since 2000, and he was named a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University in 2015.

He has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, including for Midnight’s Children, in 1983 for Shame, in 1988 for The Satanic Versus, in 1995 for The Moor’s Last Sign, and in 2019 for Quichotte.

Rushdie, 75, is an Indian-born acclaimed author and novelist

Rushdie, 75, is an Indian-born acclaimed author and novelist

The gated Chautauqua Institution, which is near Lake Erie in the south-western corner of New York state, describes itself as a ‘community of artists, educators, thinkers, faith leaders and friends dedicated to exploring the best in humanity’.

It offers arts and literary events and programmes during the summer, of which Rushdie’s address was a highlight.

Rushdie has lived in New York since 2000 and has US citizenship. Asked last year about the longstanding call for his death, he replied: ‘Oh, I have to live my life.’

Ayad Akhtar, president of PEN America, a free expression campaign group at which Sir Salman used to hold the same post, said he had not seen him accompanied by bodyguards in recent years.

However, some of those at yesterday’s event were angry that security hadn’t been tighter.

‘I went to the talk to find out why people would want to kill someone for their writing,’ said guest Sam Peters. ‘I don’t know why he wasn’t better protected.’

John Bulette, 85, added: ‘There was a huge security lapse. That somebody could get that close without any intervention was frightening.’

Kyle Doershuk, an usher in the ampitheatre, said security at the institution was lax and there did not appear to be any additional measures in place for Rushdie’s visit.

‘It’s very open, it’s very accessible, it’s a very relaxed environment,’ he said. ‘In my opinion something like this was just waiting to happen.’

The attack sent shockwaves through the literary and political worlds. Boris Johnson said he was ‘appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend’. Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was ‘shocked and appalled to hear of the unprovoked and senseless attack’.

She added: ‘Freedom of expression is a value we hold dear and attempts to undermine it must not be tolerated.’

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries called the attack ‘horrifying’, adding: ‘An awful attack on a literary giant and one of the great defenders of freedom of expression.’

Author JK Rowling said on Twitter: ‘Horrifying news. Feeling very sick right now. Let him be ok,’ while horror writer Stephen King echoed her concern.

PEN America said it was ‘reeling from shock and horror’ at the attack.

‘We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,’ chief executive Suzanne Nossel said.

‘Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered.’

New York governor Kathy Hochul praised the swift response of the authorities to what she called a ‘horrific event’, saying a state trooper ‘stood up and saved his life’.

Muslim societies on both sides of the Atlantic were quick to condemn the attack. The Muslim Council of Britain tweeted: ‘Such violence is wrong and the perpetrator must be brought to justice,’ while Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, added: ‘American Muslims, like all Americans, condemn any violence targeting anyone in our society.’

Markus Dohle, chief executive of Penguin Random House, the author’s publisher, said: ‘We are deeply shocked and appalled to hear of the attack on Salman Rushdie. We condemn this violent public assault, and our thoughts are with Salman and his family at this distressing time.’

A statement from New York State Police said: ‘At about 11 am, a male suspect ran up onto the stage and attacked Rushdie and an interviewer. Rushdie suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck, and was transported by helicopter to an area hospital. The interviewer suffered a minor head injury. A State Trooper assigned to the event immediately took the suspect into custody.’

‘I’m stupidly optimistic. Even through those bad years I always believed there would be a happy ending’: The courageous but haunting words of brilliant author Salman Rushdie on his life in hiding from fatwa 

By Helen Weathes for The Daily Mail

One of the most celebrated writers of our time, Sir Salman Rushdie spoke of his ‘great surprise and delight’ when he was named in this year’s Queen’s Birthday honours list for services to literature.

The 75-year-old award-winning novelist described his elevation to the Order of the Companions of Honour in June as an ‘extraordinary honour’ and ‘a privilege’.

It was a crowning moment in an illustrious career overshadowed by the most extraordinary controversy the literary world has seen.

Founded in 1917 by George V, the Companions of Honour is awarded for long-standing contribution to arts, science, medicine or government. Rushdie certainly fits that bill.

The author of more than 20 books, the Indian-born, Rugby-educated, former advertising copywriter’s output is not only prolific but acclaimed. His third novel Midnight’s Children won the 1981 Booker Prize, and then the Best of Booker Prize winners in 2008.

But it was his controversial fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, which propelled him on to the front pages 34 years ago, turning him into a global name, figure of hate and target of death threats.

Padma Lakshmi and Salman Rushdie at the Vanity Fair Oscar after party in March 2006

Padma Lakshmi and Salman Rushdie at the Vanity Fair Oscar after party in March 2006

He has been living under the long shadow of fear ever since, even though his life has gradually returned to something approaching normality.

Five years in the writing, The Satanic Verses shook the world and ignited Muslim fury as protesters accused the author of offending their deepest religious beliefs; calling the magic-realist epic novel a ‘blasphemy’.

The complex and multi-layered plot focuses on two men, both Indian Muslims living in England, infused with Islam but confused by the temptations of the West. The first survives by returning to his roots; the second kills himself, destroyed by the inability to reconcile his spiritual needs and intellectual inability to return to the faith.

Rushdie was blindsided by the violent response to his novel, which he suggested was both about ‘migration, metamorphosis, divided selves, love, death’ and a ‘serious attempt to write about religion and revelation from the point of view of a secular person’. But following its publication in 1988, it was banned in several countries including Rushdie’s birthplace of India, where 12 people lost their lives in a riot in Bombay. There were violent demonstrations in Pakistan.

Some chains stopped selling the book, and copies were burned across the UK, first in Bolton where 7,000 Muslims gathered on December 2, 1988, then in Bradford in January 1989. In May that year, thousands gathered in Parliament Square in London to burn an effigy of Rushdie.

On Valentine’s Day in 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran called for Rushdie’s execution by issuing a fatwa on him and his publishers – forcing the author into hiding for almost a decade, while translators and publishers were either murdered or the victims of attempted terrorist attacks. In October 1993, William Nygaard, the novel’s Norwegian publisher, was shot three times outside his home in Oslo and seriously injured.

A £2.7million bounty was placed on the author’s head, which resulted in Rushdie taking on a 24-hour armed guard under the British Government’s protection programme and moved from one safe location to another.

Novelist and friend Ian McEwan recalled: ‘The first few months were the worst. No one knew anything. Were Iranian agents, professional killers already in place in the UK when the fatwa was proclaimed? Might a ‘freelancer’, stirred by a denunciation in a mosque, be an effective assassin?

‘The mobs were frightening. They burned books in the street, they bayed for blood outside Parliament and waved ‘Rushdie Must Die’ placards.’

Rushdie came out of hiding in 1998 when new Iranian president Mohammad Khatami said it no longer supported the fatwa.

In 2012, he published his memoirs under his alias during that bleak time – Joseph Anton – a combination of the first names of two writers he loved: Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.

But as recently as February 2016, it was reported that money had been raised to add to the fatwa, reminding the author that – for some – the Ayatollah’s ruling still stands.

Students of religious party Jamiat Talba-e-Arabia burn an effigy of British author Salman Rushdie during a protest in Multan, Pakistan in June 2007

Students of religious party Jamiat Talba-e-Arabia burn an effigy of British author Salman Rushdie during a protest in Multan, Pakistan in June 2007

In recent years, Rushdie has tried to put distance between his life as a writer in New York now – where he became resident 20 years ago – and the events of almost 35 years ago.

‘I really resist the idea of being dragged back to that period of time,’ he said in an interview last year, adding that he hates being defined by it.

‘It destroys my individuality as a person and as a writer. I’m not a geopolitical entity. I’m someone writing in a room.

‘One of the benefits of being a writer, I think, is that if what you’re doing for a living is examining your life, hopefully by the time you reach this advanced age, you understand something about yourself and why you think what you think.’

As for surviving death threats, the fatwa, the years in hiding with his sanity intact, Rushdie added: ‘I am stupidly optimistic, and I think it did get me through those bad years, because I believed there would be a happy ending, when very few people did believe it.’

In another interview, however, he admitted he often thought about death. ‘I did, and now I think about it for a different reason, a slightly more inescapable reason,’ he said, referring to his advancing years.

The son of an Indian lawyer turned businessman, Rushdie was 14 when he was shipped off to boarding school in Britain. He turned to writing in the 1970s after a successful career in advertising during which he came up with the cream-cake slogan, ‘Naughty but Nice.’

Acclaimed for his magic-realist style, he was a rising star in the literary world, expected to set the world alight with each new offering – though with The Satanic Verses, it was not in the way he ever imagined or intended. Novelist and friend Martin Amis once wrote: ‘Salman had disappeared into the world of block caps. He had vanished into the front page.’

Protester with 'we are ready to kill Rushdie signs' and an effigy with him on a hanging noose in Beirut, Lebanon in 1989

Protester with ‘we are ready to kill Rushdie signs’ and an effigy with him on a hanging noose in Beirut, Lebanon in 1989

In fact, he had moved with a Special Branch protection team to a hotel in the Cotswolds for his own safety.

That same evening, Channel Four broadcast a pre-recorded interview with Rushdie, in which he said: ‘If you don’t want to read a book, you don’t have to read it. It’s very hard to be offended by The Satanic Verses – it requires a long period of intense reading. It’s a quarter of a million words.’

Four days after the fatwa was issued, he apologised: ‘I profoundly regret the distress the publication has occasioned to sincere followers of Islam.’ Khomeini rejected the apology.

He said that even if Rushdie repented and ‘became the most pious man of all time’, it was still incumbent on every Muslim to ’employ everything he has got’ to kill him.

Ever the optimist, Rushdie was able to speak of the ‘fun side’ of his global notoriety and became equally as famous for his love life and ‘party boy’ image – which he insists was wildly exaggerated – which emerged after he came out of hiding.

Four times married, he has a son Zafar with first wife Clarissa Luard. They divorced in 1987, just before the publication of The Satanic Verses, after he left her for bohemian Australian author Robyn Davidson.

Author Sir Salman Rushdie holds up a copy of his controversial book, "The Satanic Verses" during a 1992 news conference in the US in June 2007

Author Sir Salman Rushdie holds up a copy of his controversial book, “The Satanic Verses” during a 1992 news conference in the US in June 2007

Following that two-year romance, he married American novelist Marianne Wiggins. Their marriage lasted five years and in 1997 he married publishing assistant Elizabeth West, whom he met while in hiding and with whom he has a second son, Milan.

The marriage collapsed when he met Indian-born model Padma Lakshmi. Their 2004 marriage lasted three years. Today, his partner is said to be American poet and artist Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Despite having lived under the shadow of a fatwa for so long, Rushdie is a fierce defender of freedom of speech and has spoken of his abhorrence of today’s creeping ‘cancel culture’.

Comfortable in the spotlight, he has learned to embrace his fame in more unexpected ways – including a cameo in the film Bridget Jones’s Diary. In 2017, he made another cameo on Larry David’s sitcom, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Rushdie – making fun of his ordeal – tells Larry, who has also had a fatwa issued against him, that there are pluses – women would flock to him.

‘At first I thought, you know, ‘How funny is this really?’ And then I thought, ‘OK, there’s a point in my life when it would not have been funny, and the fact that we can now send it up is a good thing.’

Now, as the victim of a brutal knife attack, hopefully that optimism was not misplaced.

 


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