(CNN) — Renowned writer Salman Rushdie is awake and “eloquent” in his conversations with investigators while hospitalized for serious stabbing injuries he sustained during an attack in western New York state last Friday, he told CNN a law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the investigation Monday.
Rushdie, 75, underwent emergency surgery after a man stabbed him several times before the conference he was to give at the Chautauqua Institution, according to authorities.
The writer, who has won multiple awards for his work, was conscious on Monday and was able to answer investigators’ questions, according to the police official.
It’s unclear what Rushdie told investigators after the attack that rocked the literary world and prompted immediate backlash.
Authorities identified the suspect in the attack as 24-year-old Hadi Matar. Matar allegedly jumped onto the stage at the Chautauqua Institution, about 70 miles southwest of Buffalo, New York, and lunged at Rushdie, repeatedly stabbing him, according to New York State Police. The suspect was held by people from the audience and by local workers who forced him to the ground until a state trooper arrested him.
Salman Rushdie suffered three stab wounds to the neck, four to the stomach, puncture wounds to his right eye and chest, and a laceration to his right thigh, Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt said during a court appearance. Kill the weekend. In addition, Rushdie could lose sight in his right eye, Schmidt added. And he maintained that the attack was directed against the writer and that it was planned in advance.
Authorities believe Matar, who lived in Fairview, New Jersey, traveled to Buffalo by bus and used a ride-sharing app to get to Chautauqua the day before the attack, according to the law enforcement official who spoke to CNN.
Investigators still don’t know where Matar spent the night, the source added. Therefore, they work with the institution to review the surveillance images and be able to determine if he was near the area during the night, the official said.
At the time of his arrest, Matar had a fake driver’s license, some cash, two prepaid Visa gift cards, and no wallet, the official told CNN. The suspect refused to answer questions from authorities at the time of his arrest and asked for a lawyer, the source said.
Public defender Nathaniel Barone, who represents Matar, told CNN that his client has been “very cooperative” and has communicated openly.
Matar has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault with intent to cause bodily injury with a deadly weapon, Barone said.
Rushdie lived in hiding and under protection after his novel was published “the satanic verses“, in 1988. The work drew criticism from some Muslims who considered it sacrilege. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late Iranian leader, called the book an insult to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, for which he issued a religious decree, or fatwa , in which he called for Rushdie’s death, in 1989.
What we know about the suspect in attacking Salman Rushdie
The motive for the attack remains unclear. So the authorities review the items seized at Matar’s house in New Jersey, according to the police source.
Matar, who has no documented criminal history, is accused of using a knife in the attack, according to a felony complaint.
It is also unclear how he was able to enter the scene armed with a knife. There were no security checks or metal detectors at the event, according to a witness CNN does not identify because he expressed concerns about his personal safety.
Some people who interacted with Matar at a boxing gym in North Bergen, New Jersey, described him as quiet and mostly reserved.
Desmond Boyle, owner of the State of Fitness Boxing Club, told CNN that Matar signed up there in April.
“You know that look, that ‘worst day of your life’ look? Well, he came in every day like that,” Boyle told CNN.
Roberto Irizarry, a member of the gym, told CNN that Matar went to the place about three or four times a week and was “a very calm young man.”
“It’s a brotherly atmosphere, a family atmosphere. We try to get everyone involved. He used to be very reserved,” Irizarry said.
Matar faces up to 32 years in prison if convicted, the district attorney said.
The United States rejects the declaration of the Government of Iran
The attack on Salman Rushdie prompted writers and officials around the world to voice their support.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “shocked” by the attack on Rushdie, who is also a British citizen.
“Shocked that Mr. Salman Rushdie was stabbed while exercising a right that we must never stop defending. At this time, my thoughts are with his loved ones,” he said.
Rushdie lived under British protection after Iran issued the fatwa calling for his death.
This Monday, the Government of Iran denied having links with the attack in its first official reaction.
“We do not consider anyone more than [Rushdie] and his followers worthy of blame and even condemnation,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said during a televised news conference.
Iranian officials know nothing about the suspect other than what the US media has reported, Kanaani said, according to Iranian state media. “We categorically and seriously deny any connection of the aggressor with Iran,” the official added.
The US State Department rejected Iran’s stance, calling the comments “despicable” and “disgusting.”
“It’s no secret that the regime in Iran has been central to the threats against his life over the years,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price, who called Iran’s “boast” about the attack “absolutely outrageous”.
“We want to make it very clear that this is not something we can tolerate,” Price said.
In 1998, the Iranian government tried to distance itself from the fatwa by promising not to try to comply with it. Despite that, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reaffirmed the religious edict.
In February 2017, the supreme leader was asked on Khamenei’s official website if the “fatwa against Rushdie was still in force”, to which he confirmed that it was. “The decree is as issued by Imam Khomeini,” he noted.
CNN’s Nicki Brown, Liam Reilly, Artemis Moshtaghian, Kristina Sgueglia, Samantha Beech, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, David Romain, Nouran Salahieh, Adam Pourahmadi, Alex Stambaugh, Michael Conte and Christian Sierra contributed to this report.