(CNN) — Famed writer Salman Rushdie is recovering in hospital after being repeatedly stabbed on stage in front of a New York audience in an attack last Friday that left him with multiple serious injuries, his family said.
The 75-year-old author’s family — who has lived under threat for his works for decades — said he was in critical condition Sunday after the onstage attack, which ended with the assailant being held by event staff and guests, and Rushdie being transported to a hospital.
“Although his life-changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty and defiant sense of humor remains intact,” his son Zafar Rushdie said in a statement Sunday.
Rushdie was taken off his ventilator over the weekend but was still being treated for injuries that included 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 Saturday, adding that the writer could end up losing his right eye.
The suspect, identified as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, was arrested by state troopers at the scene of the attack and taken into custody.
Authorities are now investigating what prompted the stabbing, prompting the state to increase the police presence in Chautauqua, New York State Police Superintendent Kevin P. Bruen said.
What we know about the “pre-planned and targeted” attack on Salman Rushdie
Rushdie was preparing to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution on Friday when a man lunged onto the stage and stabbed him in multiple places in front of a stunned audience.
Staff members and guests ran onto the stage and restrained the assailant before a state trooper assigned to the event took him into custody, according to New York State Police.
Also injured in the attack was Ralph Henry Reese, another speaker at the event who suffered a minor head injury.
“It was very difficult to understand. It seemed like some kind of bad joke and had no sense of reality,” Ralph Henry Reese told CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” “And then when there was blood behind him, it became real.”
Joyce Lussier, a witness, was sitting in the second row when she watched the attack unfold. She heard people screaming and crying, she told CNN, and saw people from the audience running onto the stage.
The suspect had arrived in Chautauqua at least a day before the event and purchased a conference pass two days before, authorities said.
Schmidt called the stabbing a “targeted, pre-planned and unprovoked attack on Mr. Rushdie,” and said the suspect, Matar, traveled to Chautauqua by bus with cash, prepaid Visa cards and false identification.
The felony complaint against Matar indicated that a knife was used in the stabbing.
It is unclear how the suspect could have entered the event armed with a knife. However, a witness told CNN there were no security checks or metal detectors at the entrance to the venue. The witness did not want to be identified because he expressed concern for his personal safety.
The institution’s president, Michael Hill, defended his organization’s security plans when asked during a news conference on Friday if there would be more precautions at future events.
“We assess for each event what we think is the appropriate level of security, and this was certainly one that we thought was important, so we had a state police and sheriff’s presence there,” Hill said.
On Sunday, New York Governor Kathy Hochul met with Chautauqua Institute stage staff and the police officer who helped arrest Rushdie’s alleged attacker, calling them heroes.
“The team that was on the ground here and the EMTs, firefighters and those who showed up and literally kept the man alive while they transported him, they did an extraordinary job,” the governor said.
The suspect, who has pleaded not guilty, was described as a “quiet” man from New Jersey.
Matar, who authorities say has no documented criminal history, has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted second-degree murder and second-degree assault with intent to cause bodily injury with a deadly weapon, his public defender, Nathaniel Barone, said. to CNN this Saturday.
The attorney said Matar has been “very cooperative” and has communicated openly, but would not disclose what was said during those conversations. He faces up to 32 years in prison if he is convicted on both counts, Schmidt said.
Matar was described as a quiet person who mostly kept to himself.
The suspect had signed up for the State of Fitness Boxing Club in North Bergen, New Jersey, in April, the gym’s owner, Desmond Boyle, told CNN.
“You know that look, that ‘worst day of your life’ look? He came in every day like that,” Boyle told CNN on Saturday.
A member of the gym, Roberto Irizarry, told CNN that Matar frequented the gym three or four times a week and that he was “a very quiet boy.”
“It’s a brotherly environment, a family environment; we try to get everyone involved. He was more or less for himself,” Irizarry said.
Rushdie receives an outpouring of support as he begins the ‘road to recovery’
The attack on the prominent writer generated an outpouring of support from leaders around the world.
US President Joe Biden said in a statement that he was saddened. “Salman Rushdie, with his vision of humanity, with his unrivaled sense of history, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced, represents essential and universal ideals. Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society,” Biden said.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a tweet that he was “shocked” by the attack on Rushdie, who is also a British citizen.
“Dismayed that Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed while exercising a right we must never stop defending. At this time, my thoughts are with his loved ones. We all hope he is well,” Johnson said Friday.
Rushdie’s ex-wife, television presenter Padma Lakshmi, said in a tweet this Sunday that she was “relieved” that Rushdie is “getting over Friday’s nightmare.”
“Worried and speechless. I can finally exhale. Now I hope for a speedy recovery,” she said.
Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to press freedom, said in a statement:
“PEN America is reeling in shock and horror at the news of a brutal and premeditated attack on our former president and staunch ally, Salman Rushdie, who was reportedly stabbed multiple times while speaking on stage at the Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York,” Nossel said. “We cannot think of any comparable incident of a public attack on a literary writer on American soil.”
“Salman Rushdie has been attacked for his words for decades, but he has never flinched or wavered,” Nossel added. “He has devoted tireless energy to helping others who are vulnerable and threatened.”
Rushdie’s writings have earned him several literary awards, but also critical acclaim. His fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses,” drew condemnation from some Muslims who viewed the book as sacrilege.
The late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who described the book as an insult to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, issued a religious decree, or fatwa, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.
As a result, Rushdie began a decade under British protection.
In its first official reaction, Iran blamed the author and “his supporters” for the attack on Rushdie.
“With regard to the attack on Salman Rushdie, we do not believe that anyone other than [Rushdie] and his supporters deserve blame and even condemnation,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani told a televised news conference on Monday.
Kanaani also said that Iranian officials “categorically and seriously deny any connection of the aggressor to Iran,” according to Iranian state media.
“We have not seen anything else about the individual who carried out this act other than what we have seen in the US media. We categorically and seriously deny any connection of the aggressor to Iran,” Kanaani was quoted as saying by Iranian state media.
While the motive for Friday’s stabbing is investigated, New York’s governor has condemned the attack.
“I want it to be known that a man with a knife cannot silence a man with a pen,” Hochul said.
CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian, Liam Reilly, Samantha Beech, Keith Allen, Adam Pourahmadi, Alex Stambaugh and Brian Stelter contributed to this report.