Salman Rushdie stabbed: Author taken off ventilator after attack, 'on the road to recovery'

CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. – Salman Rushdie, "The Satanic Verses” author who was stabbed Friday as he prepared to give a lecture in upstate New York, has been taken off a ventilator and is able to talk.

The USA TODAY best-selling writer, whose work has previously led to death threats, suffered wounds to the neck and abdomen when an assailant attacked him as he was about to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York.

Rushdie, 75, remains hospitalized with serious injuries, but is "on the road to recovery," Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie of The Wylie Agency, confirmed Sunday to The Associated Press. Wylie cautioned that although Rushdie's “condition is headed in the right direction,” his recovery would be a long process.

On Friday, Wylie said the writer suffered a damaged liver, severed nerves in an arm and an eye he was likely to lose.

New York police said a state trooper assigned to the event took a suspect into custody after the attack. In a news conference Friday afternoon, the suspect was identified as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, according to New York State Police Maj. Eugene Staniszewski.

He was arrested after the attack and charged with attempted second-degree murder and second-degree assault. Matar entered a not-guilty plea during an arraignment hearing in New York court Saturday.

An attorney for the suspect entered the plea on his behalf. Matar appeared in court wearing a black and white jumpsuit and a white face mask. His hands were cuffed in front of him.

Investigators were working to determine whether the suspect, born a decade after “The Satanic Verses” was published, acted alone.

Who is Salman Rushdie? Author was attacked on stage in New York

British novelist and essayist Salman Rushdie poses during a 2018 photo session in Paris. Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after an Iranian fatwa ordered his killing, was seriously injured in a stabbing attack at a literary event in New York state on Friday.

The attack was pre-planned, District Attorney Jason Schmidt told the judge. He said Matar obtained an advance pass to the event where the author was speaking and arrived a day early bearing a fake ID.

On Saturday, The Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education center, said it was boosting security through measures such as requiring photo IDs to purchase gate passes. Patrons entering the amphitheater where Rushdie was attacked will also be barred from carrying bags.

President Joe Biden released a statement on Saturday saying he and first lady Jill Biden were "shocked and saddened" about the "vicious attack," adding that he was "grateful" to the first responders who rushed to Rushdie's side.

"Salman Rushdie – with his insight into humanity, with his unmatched sense for story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced – stands for essential, universal ideals," Biden said in the statement. "These are the building blocks of any free and open society."

Earlier Friday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement that Rushdie "is an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power. Someone who's been out there unafraid despite the threats that have followed him his entire adult life, it seems."

Travis Seward, general manager for 10Best at USA TODAY, was at the event. He witnessed a man "bound" toward the stage from the audience with his "arms out swinging." Seward said that he did not hear the man shout anything and that Rushdie tried to get away from the attacker and fell.

"It's really unsettling to everybody here," Seward said. "It’s a peaceful place and it was unexpected."

Police said Rushdie was taken to a hospital by helicopter, while event moderator Henry Reese, 73, suffered a facial injury and was treated and released from a hospital.

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The Chautauqua Institution is "coordinating with law enforcement and emergency officials on a public response," according to a statement sent to USA TODAY.

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, a nonprofit organization that works to defend free expression through the advancement of literature and human rights, said in an emailed statement Friday that Rushdie had been "targeted for his words.”

"PEN America is reeling from shock and horror at word of a brutal, premeditated attack on our former President and stalwart ally, Salman Rushdie," Nossel said. "We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil. … We hope and believe fervently that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced."

Rushdie is an Indian-born British-American novelist. He has written more than a dozen books, and six of his novels are USA TODAY best-sellers. His book "The Satanic Verses" has been banned in Iran since the late 1980s, and many Muslims consider it blasphemous. says, "The book mocked or at least contained mocking references to the Prophet Muhammad and other aspects of Islam, in addition to and a character clearly based on the Supreme Leader of Iran."

After the book was published, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie's death.

Salman Rushdie is tended to after he was attacked during a lecture on Friday at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y., about 75 miles south of Buffalo.

Iran’s government has long since distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment lingered. In 2012, a semi-official Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty for Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

It is not clear whether Friday's attack had any connection to the edict.

Rushdie dismissed the threat at the time. That year, Rushdie published a memoir, "Joseph Anton," about the fatwa.

Colleen Lough, 65, of Grosse Ile, Michigan, visited Chautauqua for the first time this week and was seated about 20 rows from the stage where Rushdie was attacked. She said the assailant was dressed in black and had "a black stocking or something like that" covering his face.

“It was just such a shock that this was happening in front of us, and people just started screaming, ‘No! no!’ ” she said.

Lough is an Episcopal chaplain and has volunteered at the nearby Hurlbut Church, ministering to anyone who needs help coping with what they witnessed.

“No one should ever have to fear danger or violence for saying what they think," she said. "Even in these political times, when many of us are not agreeing, everyone should be able to say what they think and have a discussion about it without fearing violence.”

Dr. Michael E. Hill, president of the Chautauqua Institution, said at Friday's news conference that the attack would not influence how the center chooses its speakers.

"This has been part of his whole life, to bring out ideas. He’s known as one of the most significant champions of freedom of speech. And I think the worst thing Chautauqua could do is to back away from its mission in light of this tragedy, and I don’t think Mr. Rushdie would want that either," Hill said.

Rushdie's most recent novel, "Quichotte," was published in 2019. In it, Rushdie puts his spin on the Miguel de Cervantes classic with a modern-day Don Quixote satirizing former President Donald Trump’s America. The book was long-listed for the Booker Prize.

In 2023, the author is expected to publish "Victory City: A Novel," following a woman who "breathes a fantastical empire into existence, only to be consumed by it over the centuries," according to the book description.

Contributing: Kristen Shamus, The Detroit Free Press; Joshua Goodman, Carolyn Thompson and Hittel Italie, The Associated Press; Kim Willis and Elise Brisco, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Salman Rushdie off ventilator after attack, suspect held without bail