Author Salman Rushdie is reportedly on a ventilator and unable to speak after being attacked while on stage in western New York on Friday.
State troopers confirmed in a press conference Friday afternoon that Rushdie was stabbed at least once in the neck and at least once in the abdomen while on stage for a panel in Chautauqua in western New York.
Staff and audience members rushed to the stage and pinned the assailant to the ground following the attack, state troopers said. A state trooper who was present took the suspect into custody with the assistance of a local sheriff’s deputy.
Rushdie was treated by a doctor who was in the audience before emergency medical services arrived and airlifted him to a local trauma center.
After hours of surgery, Rushdie was reportedly on a ventilator and unable to speak on Friday evening.
“The news is not good,” Andrew Wylie, his book agent, wrote in an email reported by Reuters. “Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”
The state police department identified the suspect as Hadi Matar, age 24, from Fairview, NJ. The New York State Police is collaborating with the FBI and local police for the investigation.
A preliminary review of Matar’s social media accounts by law enforcement showed him to be sympathetic to Shia extremism and the causes of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a law enforcement person with direct knowledge of the investigation told NBC News. Law enforcement officers reportedly found images of Solemani and an Iraqi extremist sympathetic to the Iranian regime in a cell phone messaging app belonging to Matar, according to NBC News.
There are no definitive links to the IRGC but the initial assessment indicates he is sympathetic to the Iranian government group, the official said.
The New York State Police released a statement immediately following the incident:
“On August 12, 2022, at about 11 a.m., a male suspect ran up onto the stage and attacked Rushdie and an interviewer,” the statement read. “Rushdie suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck, and was transported by helicopter to an area hospital. His condition is not yet known. The interviewer suffered a minor head injury. A State Trooper assigned to the event immediately took the suspect into custody.”
A spokesperson from the Chautauqua Institution, where the panel was being held, told CNBC that the organization was coordinating with emergency officials on a public response after the attack.
The Wylie Agency, which represents Rushdie, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rushdie’s book “The Satanic Verses” forced him into hiding after it was banned in Iran and a $3 million bounty was put on his head. The Iranian government has distanced itself from the bounty, according to The Associated Press, but the fatwa has been continued by a semiofficial religious organization, which raised the bounty to $3.3 million.
Rushdie has been awarded many of the top literary prizes, including two Whitbread Prizes for best novel. He was knighted in 2007 while Tony Blair was prime minister. Blair released a statement on the attack.
“My thoughts are with Salman and all his family,” Blair wrote on Friday. “A horrible and utterly unjustified attack on someone exercising their right to speak, to write and to be true to their convictions in their life and in their art.”
Rushdie was scheduled to sit on a panel alongside Henry Reese, president of City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, an organization that provides sanctuary to writers exiled under threat of persecution.
“We ask for your prayers for Salman Rushdie and Henry Reese, and patience as we fully focus on coordinating with police officials following a tragic incident at the Amphitheater today,” the Chautauqua Institution said in a tweet Friday. “All programs are canceled for the remainder of the day. Please consult the NYS Police statement.”
The institution’s website described the panel as “A discussion of the United States as asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression.”
Rushdie was the former president of PEN America, a nonprofit that defends freedom of expression and supports persecuted writers. PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel released a statement in the wake of the attack.
“Just hours before the attack, on Friday morning, Salman had emailed me to help with placements for Ukrainian writers in need of safe refuge from the grave perils they face,” Nossel wrote. “Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered. He has devoted tireless energy to assisting others who are vulnerable and menaced.”
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul thanked the New York State Police for their response to the attack on Rushdie.
“Our thoughts are with Salman & his loved ones following this horrific event,” wrote the governor. “I have directed State Police to further assist however needed in the investigation.”
Hochul later said Rushdie is alive.
“It was a state police officer that stood up and saved his life,” the governor said during an event about gun violence, adding that the event moderator was also attacked. “We’re monitoring the situation, but he’s getting the care he needs at the local hospital.”
This is the latest in a series of onstage attacks against public figures, including Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., in a town near Rochester, New York, earlier this summer, Dave Chappelle at the Hollywood Bowl, and Chris Rock during the Oscars.
NBC News contributed to this report
Correction: Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., was attacked in a town near Rochester, New York, earlier this summer. An earlier version misspelled his name and misstated the location.