(CNN) –– The place where the renowned author Salman Rushdie — whose controversial work has drawn death threats — rejected earlier recommendations to tighten security measures, two sources told CNN.
Rushdie, 75, was stabbed at least twice onstage at the Chautauqua Institution before giving a lecture, New York State Police said Friday. The writer was flown to a hospital in northwestern Pennsylvania and underwent surgery, a Pennsylvania police officer said.
Later that day, Rushdie was put on a ventilator and unable to speak, his agent, Andrew Wylie, told The New York Times. He’ll probably lose an eye, Wylie said. “The nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged. The news is not good.”
A suspect was taken into custody shortly afterward and authorities are working to determine a motive and charges, state police said.
In the aftermath of the attack, questions were raised about the security measures — or lack thereof — at the host institution, which is located in a rural lakeside resort about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Buffalo, New York.
The institution’s leadership had rejected recommendations for basic security measures, including bag searches and metal detectors, fearing they would create a divide between speakers and the audience, according to two sources who spoke to CNN. They also feared it would change the culture at the institution, the sources said.
The two sources who have direct knowledge of the security situation at the Chautauqua Institution and the recommendations mentioned above spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
It is unclear whether the recommended measures would have prevented the attack on Rushdie based on information released about the incident Friday night. Authorities have not disclosed the type of weapon used in the attack.
There were no security checks or metal detectors during the event, a person who witnessed the attack told CNN. The witness is not being identified because he expressed concern for his personal safety.
CNN has reached out to the Chautauqua Institution and its management for comment but did not receive a response Friday.
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, which is why we had a state police and sheriff presence there,” Hill said. “We will evaluate for each of the events at the Institution what we believe is the appropriate level of security and that is an ongoing process in which we work together with local law enforcement.”
Also injured Friday was Henry Reese, co-founder of the nonprofit City of Asylum of Pittsburgh, who was scheduled to join Rushdie in conversation, police said. He was taken to a hospital and treated for a facial injury and released.
The Rushdie’s writings they have won several literary awards, including the Booker Prize for their 1981 book, Midnight’s Children. But it was his fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses,” that drew the most scrutiny, as some Muslims viewed the book as sacrilege, and its publication in 1988 sparked public demonstrations.
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.
Authorities were at the suspect’s home in New Jersey.
The suspect in the attack was identified as Hadi Matar of Fairview, New Jersey, New York State Troop Commander Eugene J. Staniszewski said Friday night during a news conference.
The attack happened around 10:45 a.m. as Rushdie was being introduced, a witness told CNN. A man in a black shirt appeared to be “punching” the author. The witness, who was about 75 feet (20 meters) from the stage, did not hear the attacker say anything or see a weapon.
Another witness, Joyce Lussier, was sitting in the second row when she saw a man who “staggered across the stage and walked right up to Mr. Rushdie.”
“He came in on the left side and he jumped across the stage and just lunged at it. In, I don’t know, two seconds he was walking across that stage,” Lussier said. He heard people screaming and crying and saw people from the audience running onto the stage, he said.
Matar, 24, allegedly stabbed Rushdie at least once in the neck and at least once in the abdomen, state police said. Staff and audience members ran to the attacker and put him on the ground before a state trooper took him into custody, police said.
By Friday night, police had blocked off the street of the New Jersey home believed to be related to the suspect.
Iran’s bounty was never withdrawn
Rushdie was born in India in 1947, of British and American nationality. He is the son of a successful Muslim businessman in India. He received his education from him in England, first at Rugby School and then at Cambridge University. There he completed a master’s degree in history.
After college, he began working as a copywriter in London, before publishing his first novel, “Grimus” in 1975.
In 1989, as a result of the fatwa, Rushdie began a decade under British protection.
Rushdie told CNN in 1999 that the experience taught him to “value even more… intensely the things that he previously valued, like the art of literature and freedom of expression and the right to say things other people don’t like.”
“It may have been a nasty decade, but it was the right fight, you know? It was fighting for the things I believe in the most against the things I like the least, which are bigotry, bigotry and censorship.”
The reward against Rushdie has never been withdrawn, although in 1998 the Iranian government tried to distance itself from the fatwa by promising not to try to carry it out.
Despite that, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently reaffirmed the religious edict.
In February 2017, on Khamenei’s official website, the supreme leader was asked if the “fatwa against Rushdie was still in force,” to which Khamenei confirmed that it was, saying, “The decree is as issued by the Imam Khomeini”.
With information from Ray Sanchez, Adam Thomas, Kristina Sgueglia, Samantha Beech, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Liam Reilly, David Romain, Nicki Brown, Mark Morales, Christina Maxouris, Jonny Hallam, and Artemis Moshtaghian