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Author Rushdie stabbed 10 times in premeditated attack

Aug. 13, 2022 Updated Sat., Aug. 13, 2022 at 9:09 p.m.

British author Salman Rushdie speaks as he presents his book "Quichotte" at the Volkstheater in Vienna, Austria, on Nov. 16, 2019.  (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE)
British author Salman Rushdie speaks as he presents his book "Quichotte" at the Volkstheater in Vienna, Austria, on Nov. 16, 2019. (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE)
By Hurubie Meko and Lauren D’Avolio New York Times

Author Salman Rushdie was stabbed 10 times as he prepared to speak at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York on Friday, prosecutors said during an arraignment for the man accused of carrying out the attack.

Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old New Jersey man who was arrested at the scene, appeared Saturday afternoon at the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, New York, for his arraignment on charges of second-degree attempted murder and assault with a weapon.

In court, prosecutors said that the attack on the author was premeditated and targeted. Matar traveled by bus to the intellectual retreat in western New York and purchased a pass that allowed him to attend the talk Rushdie was to give Friday morning, according to the prosecutors.

Matar wore a striped jumpsuit, handcuffs, shackles and bright orange slide-on shoes, and did not speak. Nathaniel Barone, a public defender, entered a plea of not guilty on Matar’s behalf. Matar was held without bail, with his next court appearance scheduled for Friday at 3 p.m.

Rushdie, who had spent decades under proscription by Iran, was on a ventilator Friday evening after undergoing hours of surgery, according to an email from his agent, Andrew Wylie. Efforts to reach Wylie on Saturday were unsuccessful.

Wylie said Friday that the author’s condition was “not good.” Rushdie might lose an eye, his liver had been damaged, and the nerves in his arm were severed, he said.

The New York State Police said at a news conference Friday afternoon that there was no indication of a motive but that they were working with the FBI.

Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, said Saturday that he was appalled by the attack on the author, who decades ago became a symbol of freedom of expression in the face of repression.

“In no case is violence a response to words spoken or written by others in their exercise of the freedoms of opinion and expression,” Guterres said in a statement.

But in Iran, Rushdie’s enemies rejoiced. The front page of Keyhan, a newspaper published in Tehran, on Sunday said that Rushdie had gotten “divine vengeance” and that former President Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo, his former secretary of state, “are next.”

The Friday attack happened in a center dedicated to learning and reflection. A video on TikTok that was subsequently taken down showed the chaotic scene moments after the attacker had jumped onto the stage at the normally placid institution. Rushdie, who had been living relatively openly after years of a semi-clandestine existence, had just taken a seat to give a talk when a man attacked him.

A crowd of people immediately rushed to where the author lay on the stage to offer aid. Stunned members of the audience could be seen throughout the amphitheater. While some were screaming, others got up and moved slowly toward the stage. People started to congregate in the aisles. A person could be heard yelling, “Oh, my God!” repeatedly.

A sheriff’s deputy and another law enforcement officer with a dog ran to the scene about a minute later. When Matar, a U.S. citizen, was arrested, he was carrying two fake IDs, according to a law enforcement official.

Security at the Chautauqua Institution is minimal. At its main amphitheater, which regularly hosts popular musical acts and celebrity speakers and where Rushdie was scheduled to speak, there are no bag checks or metal detectors.

In a statement Friday, the U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called the attack against Rushdie “reprehensible.”

“This act of violence is appalling,” he said.

The state police did not provide an update on Rushdie’s condition Saturday morning. A spokesperson for a hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania, where Rushdie is being treated, said it would not provide information on patient conditions.

At a house listed as Matar’s residence in Fairview, New Jersey, no one answered the door Saturday morning. A woman in a gray Jeep Rubicon in the driveway kept her windows up, waving off reporters as she sped away. Many of Matar’s neighbors said they did not know him or his family – although some residents, when shown a photograph of Matar, said they recognized him as someone who would walk around the neighborhood with his head down, never making eye contact.

Antonio Lopa, who lives across the street from Matar, said he saw between 10 and 15 FBI agents outside Matar’s home Friday afternoon. They stayed until nearly 1:30 a.m., he said.

Officials said at a news conference Friday that they were working to get search warrants for a backpack and electronic devices that were found at the institution.

Rushdie had been living under the threat of an assassination attempt since 1989, about six months after the publication of his novel “The Satanic Verses.” The book fictionalized parts of the life of the Prophet Muhammad with depictions that offended some Muslims, who believed the novel to be blasphemous. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led Iran after its 1979 revolution, issued an edict known as a fatwa on Feb. 14, 1989. It ordered Muslims to kill Rushdie.

In 1991, the novel’s Japanese translator was stabbed to death, and its Italian translator was badly wounded. The novel’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times in 1993 outside his home in Oslo and was seriously injured.

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