Authorities have identified the suspect who attacked author Salman Rushdie – CBS Atlanta

NEW YORK, NY. (CW44 News At 10 | CNN) – Salman Rushdie, a famous author and winner of the world’s top literary prizes whose writing has generated death threats, was attacked and stabbed at least twice on stage Friday before a conference that was to donate to the Chautauqua Institution in western New York, state police said.

Rushdie was on a ventilator Friday night and couldn’t speak, his agent, Andrew Wylie, told The New York Times.

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“Salman will probably lose an eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged,” Wylie told The Times. “The news is not good.”

The suspect has been identified as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, State Police Troop Commander Maj. Eugene J. Staniszewski said at a news conference Friday night. Police are working with the FBI and local authorities to determine the motive.

Authorities are also working to obtain search warrants for several items found at the scene, including a backpack and electronic devices, Staniszewski said. Authorities believe the suspect was alone but are investigating “to make sure that was the case,” Staniszewski added.

The suspect jumped onto the scene and stabbed Rushdie at least once in the neck and at least once in the abdomen, state police said. Staff and members of the public rushed the suspect and took him to the ground before a state trooper took the assailant into custody, police said.

Rushdie was airlifted from a field adjacent to the site – in a rural resort town about 70 miles south of Buffalo – to a hospital. Rushdie was undergoing surgery at a hospital in northwestern Pennsylvania, Erie Police Department Deputy Chief William Marucci told CNN Friday night.

Henry Reese, co-founder of the nonprofit City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, who was to join Rushdie in a chat, was taken to hospital and treated for a facial injury and released, police said. State. The organization was founded to “provide refuge in Pittsburgh to exiled writers under threat of persecution,” according to the Chautauqua Institution’s website.

Authorities are working with the district attorney’s office to determine what charges will be brought against the suspect “once we get a little further into the investigation and determine Mr. Rushdie’s condition,” Staniszewski said.

Meanwhile, Fairview police blocked off the street from a house believed to be linked to the suspect and were not allowing anyone, including street residents, to enter or leave the area. Residents were then allowed in and out, but local police remained stationed outside the house.

At least two plainclothes law enforcement officers and two Fairview officers were seen leaving the driveway of the home.

The institution has rejected past security recommendations, sources say

Management at the Chautauqua facility, the venue hosting the event, has rejected past recommendations to increase security at events, two sources told CNN.

The sources — both familiar with the security situation in Chautauqua and past recommendations — spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Recommendations for basic security measures, such as bag checks and metal detectors, were rejected because leaders feared it would drive a wedge between speakers and audiences and change the culture in Chautauqua. It is unclear whether these security measures would have prevented Rushdie’s attack based on what is currently known about the incident, including the weapon used.

A witness to the attack told CNN there were no security searches or metal detectors during the event. The witness has not been identified because he expressed concerns for his personal safety.

CNN reached out to the Chautauqua institution and its executives for comment, but did not receive a response.

On its website, Chautauqua says their security protocols may tighten “depending on the requirements of performers and speakers.” They ask guests to only carry small bags or clear plastic bags.

“Although these restrictions will not be applied to all events, we anticipate that they may be necessary in certain circumstances this year and, in the future, they may be standard protocol for all events,” said the institution.

The suspect in Friday’s attack had a “field pass,” Chautauqua Institution president Dr. Michael E. Hill said at the news conference. Customers can purchase passes to attend the programs, Hill added.

Hill defended the institution’s measures, saying: “We assess for each event what we think is the appropriate level of security, and this was certainly the one we thought was important, which is why we had a presence of State Trooper and Sheriff there,” he said. .

Staniszewski said there was no indication of a threat to the event and the state trooper was there because the event was a mass gathering and at the request of the institution.

What the witnesses say happened

Rushdie was introduced around 10:45 a.m. when the assault happened, according to a witness, who said he heard screams in the audience. He said a man in a black shirt appeared to be “hitting” the author. The witness, who was 75 feet from the scene, did not hear the attacker say anything or see a weapon.

Some people in the audience ran to lend a hand while others tackled the attacker, the witness said. State police said a doctor who was in the audience at the event helped Rushdie until help arrived.

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New York Governor Kathy Hochul told reporters on Friday that a state trooper “got up and saved (Rushdie’s) life and protected him and the moderator who was also attacked. .

“Here is a person who has spent decades speaking truth to power,” the governor said of Rushdie. “Someone who has come out fearless, despite the threats that have followed him his entire adult life, it seems.”

Joyce Lussier, 83, who was in the second row of the amphitheater during the attack, said Rushdie and Reese had been seated on the right side of the stage when suddenly a man who appeared to be in all black “wobbled across the stage and went straight to Mr. Rushdie.

“He came over to the left side and jumped across the stage and just lunged at him. In, I don’t know, two seconds he got through that stage,” Lussier said. She added that she could hear people screaming and crying and saw people from the audience rushing onto the stage.

“They caught him right away, he didn’t come off stage at all,” Lussier said of the suspect. Shortly after, the crowd was asked to evacuate, she added.

Another witness, a longtime Chautauqua resident who asked not to be identified, recalled a commotion on stage and a man making about seven to 10 stabbing motions in the direction of the author, who was half standing. She said she fled the outdoor amphitheater “shaking like a leaf” in fear.

“His essential voice cannot and will not be silenced”

On its website, the Chautauqua Institution described Friday’s event as “a discussion of the United States as an asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression.” .

Writers such as Stephen King and JK Rowling expressed their best wishes for Rushdie via Twitter.

Rushdie is a former president of PEN America, a leading US free speech group for authors, who said he was “shocked and horrified at news of a brutal and premeditated attack”.

“We can think of no comparable incident of a violent public attack on a literary writer on American soil,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.

“We fervently hope and believe that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced.”

Penguin Random House, Rushdie’s publisher, tweeted a statement from CEO Markus Dohle: “We are deeply shocked and appalled to learn of the attack on Salman Rushdie while speaking at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. We condemn this violent public assault and our hearts go out to Salman and his family at this difficult time. »

Rushdie was harassed by “The Satanic Verses”

The 75-year-old novelist – the son of a successful Muslim businessman in India – was educated in England, first at Rugby School and then Cambridge University where he earned a master’s degree in history .

After university he began working as a copywriter in London, before publishing his first novel, “Grimus” in 1975.

Rushdie’s treatment of sensitive political and religious subjects made him a controversial figure. But it was the publication of his fourth novel “The Satanic Verses” in 1988 that haunted him for more than three decades.

Some Muslims found the book sacrilegious and it sparked public protests. In 1989, the late Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, called Rushdie a blasphemer and said “satanic verses” were an insult to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, and issued a religious edict, or fatwa, calling for his death.

As a result, the Mumbai-born writer spent a decade under British protection.

In 1999, Rushdie told CNN the experience had taught him “to value even more…intensely the things I used to value, like the art of literature, freedom of speech, and the right to say things. that others don’t like.

“It may have been an unpleasant decade, but it was the right fight, you know. It was fighting for the things I believe in the most against the things I hate the most, which are bigotry, bigotry and censorship.

The bounty against Rushdie was never lifted, although in 1998 the Iranian government sought to distance itself from the fatwa by pledging not to seek execution.

But despite what appeared to be a relaxation of the fatwa, more recently Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 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 effect”, to which Khamenei confirmed that it was, saying: “The decree is the one which Imam Khomeini published”.

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