CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. (AP) — Salman Rushdie, the author whose novel “The Satanic Verses” drew death threats from Iran’s leader in the 1980s, was attacked and apparently stabbed in the neck Friday by a man who rushed the stage as he was about to give a lecture in western New York.
A bloodied Rushdie, 75, was flown to a hospital. His condition was not immediately known. His agent, Andrew Wylie, said the writer was undergoing surgery, but he had no other details.
An Associated Press reporter witnessed a man confront Rushdie on stage at the Chautauqua Institution and punch or stab him 10 to 15 times as he was being introduced. The author was pushed or fell to the floor, and the man was arrested.
Authorities did not immediately identify the attacker or offer any information on his motive.
State police said Rushdie was apparently stabbed in the neck. Gov. Kathy Hochul said later that he was alive and “getting the care he needs.”
Dr. Martin Haskell, a physician who was among those who rushed to help, described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but recoverable.”
Event moderator Henry Reese, a co-founder of an organization that offers residencies to writers facing persecution, was also attacked and suffered a minor head injury, police said. He and Rushdie were due to discuss the United States as a refuge for writers and other artists in exile.
Police said a state trooper was assigned to Rushdie’s lecture and made the arrest. But after the attack, some longtime visitors to the center questioned why there wasn’t tighter security for the event, given the decades of threats against Rushdie and a bounty on his head offering more than $3 million for anyone who kills him.
Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the roughly 2,500 people in the audience. Amid gasps, spectators were ushered out of the outdoor amphitheater.
The assailant ran onto the platform “and started pounding on Mr. Rushdie. At first you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then it became abundantly clear in a few seconds that he was being beaten,” Savenor said. He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds.
Another spectator, Kathleen Jones, said the attacker was dressed in black, with a black mask.
“We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy around this author. But it became evident in a few seconds” that it wasn’t, she said.
Rushdie has been a prominent spokesman for free expression and liberal causes. He is a former president of PEN America, which said it was “reeling from shock and horror” at the attack.
“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.
Rushdie’s 1988 novel was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims, who saw a character as an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections. Across the Muslim world, often-violent protests erupted against Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim family.
At least 45 people were killed in riots over the book, including 12 people in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.
The book was banned in Iran, where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death. Khomeini died that same year.
Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.