What we know: Iran denies involvement, justifies attack on Rushdie

·11 min read

ERIE, Pa. — Author Salman Rushdie is being treated at UPMC Hamot in Erie for injuries he suffered when he was attacked on stage as he prepared to start a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, Erie police said.

Rushdie suffered stab wounds in the neck and abdomen, the New York State Police said. Rushdie was given immediate first aid by a doctor in the audience before emergency medical services arrived. He was transported to UPMC Hamot in Erie. As of Sunday, Aug. 14, the Associated Press and Rushdie's oldest son both reported that Rushdie was awake, off a ventilator and talking.

Police have identified the assailant as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey. Matar was taken into custody and arraigned Saturday in Chautauqua County on second-degree attempted murder charges.

New York State Police on Friday said Matar was likely acting alone and a motive remained unclear.

Rushdie for more than 30 years has been the target of a fatwa, in which the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for his death.

Iran denies involvement, justifies attack

The Associated Press reports Nasser Kanaani, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, denied Tehran was involved in the attack.

“Regarding the attack against Salman Rushdie in America, we don’t consider anyone deserving reproach, blame or even condemnation, except for (Rushdie) himself and his supporters,” Kanaani said.

“In this regard, no one can blame the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he added. “We believe that the insults made and the support he received was an insult against followers of all religions.”

Rushdie awake, talking and off ventilator

Associated Press reports Salman Rushdie was taken off a ventilator and is able to talk one day after the attack. The information was confirmed by Rushdie's agent Andrew Wylie, which was tweeted by author Aatish Taseer. No other details regarding Rushdie's condition were offered.

On Sunday morning, Wylie stated Rushdie's “condition is headed in the right direction,” noting that the recovery process will be lengthy, according to the Associated Press.

Also on Sunday, in a Tweet posted at 10:33 a.m., Salman Rushdie's oldest son, Zafar Rushdie, confirmed that his father was off a ventilator. Zafar Rushdie also thanked first-responders, police and lecture attendees for their help, and asked for privacy for his family as his father recovers.

A closer look:'There was so much screaming.' Eyewitnesses reflect on Salman Rushdie attack, lax security

Author Salman Rushdie talks about the start of his writing career, during the Mississippi Book Festival, in Jackson, Miss., on Aug. 18, 2018. Rushdie, the author whose writing led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was attacked Friday while giving a lecture in western New York.
Author Salman Rushdie talks about the start of his writing career, during the Mississippi Book Festival, in Jackson, Miss., on Aug. 18, 2018. Rushdie, the author whose writing led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was attacked Friday while giving a lecture in western New York.

Changes to Sunday programming at Chautauqua Institution

Sunday programming at the Chautauqua Institution will proceed beginning with morning worship at 10:45 a.m. Admission will be free — as it is for all Sunday programming — but "we will not be issuing anonymous passes," according to a statement from CI officials.

"All patrons needing a Sunday pass will be asked to present photo ID at the Main Gate Ticket Office so an identity-linked pass can be created at no charge. Please arrive early to ensure you are able to get from the ticket office to the venue of your desired program on time," according to the statement.

Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of Edward Albee’s "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" will continue as planned and run from August 14–August 21.

Updates to The Chautauqua Institutions programming can be found on their website, chq.org.

Biden issues statement on attack

President Joe Biden on Saturday issued a statement praying for Rushdie's recovery, thanking first responders and others who helped after the stabbing, and an affirmation of the values for which Rushdie stands.

The statement said, in part:

"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. Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society. And today, we reaffirm our commitment to those deeply American values in solidarity with Rushdie and all those who stand for freedom of expression."

Nathaniel Barone, at left, defense attorney for Hadi Matar talks with his client following an arraignment in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, N.Y., on Aug. 13, 2022. Matar, 24, who is accused of carrying out a stabbing attack against “Satanic Verses” author Salman Rushdie, has entered a not-guilty plea on charges of attempted murder and assault. An attorney for Matar entered the plea on his behalf during the arraignment hearing.
Nathaniel Barone, at left, defense attorney for Hadi Matar talks with his client following an arraignment in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, N.Y., on Aug. 13, 2022. Matar, 24, who is accused of carrying out a stabbing attack against “Satanic Verses” author Salman Rushdie, has entered a not-guilty plea on charges of attempted murder and assault. An attorney for Matar entered the plea on his behalf during the arraignment hearing.

Attempted murder, assault charges filed against suspect

On Saturday, Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt said Matar was formally charged with second-degree attempted murder for the attack on Rushdie and second-degree assault for the attack on Henry Reese.

Reese, 73, is co-founder and president of the City of Asylum in Pittsburgh.

An attorney for Matar entered a plea of not guilty on both counts during an arraignment hearing, the Associated Press reports. Matar has been remanded to the Chautauqua County jail without bail.

Schmidt said a motive for the attack remains unclear.

More on Matar:Suspect in Salman Rushdie attack from Bergen County, author in surgery for stab wounds

Chautauqua Institution holds vigil for Rushdie

A vigil was held at the Chautauqua Institution Friday evening, with remarks by CI President Michael E. Hill. The full vigil can be viewed here.

In part, Hill said:

"What we experienced at Chautauqua today is unlike anything in our 150-year history. It was an act of violence, an act of hatred and a violation of one of the things we have always cherished most: the safety and tranquility of our grounds and our ability to convene the most important conversations, even if those conversations are difficult.

"But today was also an attack on an ideal we cherish: that freedom of speech and freedom of expression are hallmarks to our society and to our democracy, they are the very underpinnings of who we are and what we believe, what we cherish most.

"This evening, we are called to take on fear and the worst of all human traits — hate. We can take the experience of hatred and reflect on what it means for today. Or we can come together even more strongly as a community who takes what happened today and commits to not allowing that hatred be any part of our own hearts."

Rushdie flown to UPMC Hamot in Erie

Rushdie was flown by helicopter to Erie from Chautauqua, Erie police Deputy Chief William Marucci said. He said the Erie police are assisting Hamot staff with security at the hospital, and he said investigators with the New York State Police are also at Hamot.

AP reports state his agent, Andrew Wylie, said Rushdie was on a ventilator Friday night, and that the author had a damaged liver, severed nerves in an arm, and an eye he was likely to lose.

Eyewitness: 'So much screaming'

The attack occurred at about 11 a.m. at the institution's 4,000-seat amphitheater.

David Johnson, a Pittsburgh resident who was in the audience for the Rushdie event, said he saw a man dressed in dark clothing charge the stage and tackle Rushdie.

Johnson said he couldn't see the full extent of Rushdie's injuries but said there was "blood spatter" in a panel behind his chair.

"There was so much screaming in the amphitheater," Johnson told the Erie Times-News. "People are still walking around stunned."

Johnson said the amphitheater was evacuated.

Erie resident who witnessed attack questions security

Erie lawyer Paul Susko was at the lecture with his son. He said they "had front row seats on the side of the stage where the attacker ran up to Rushdie."

Susko said he was surprised that more security was not in place.

When he and his son walked in, "There was no security stopping us from getting to the stage," Susko said. "There was zero security visible around the stage at the time of the attack."

"The trooper did not 'immediately' take the attacker into custody," Susko said. "He was at the top of the amphitheater while others were wrestling with the attacker and came rushing down the steps to our left. The lack of security for a guest who is the subject of a fatwa was shocking.

"There was screening to prevent attendees from bringing in a cup of coffee. Maybe screening for weapons would have been more helpful. This never should have happened in my opinion. Hope he pulls through. Looked to us that he got stabbed multiple times in the neck and chest areas."

"I think everyone was shocked, 'Why is this happening?'" Susko said.

Law enforement were on the scene, on Aug. 12, 2022, at Chautauqua Institution in Mayville, New York, following an attack on author Salman Rushdie, who was lecturing at the Institution's Amphitheater on Friday morning.
Law enforement were on the scene, on Aug. 12, 2022, at Chautauqua Institution in Mayville, New York, following an attack on author Salman Rushdie, who was lecturing at the Institution's Amphitheater on Friday morning.

New York State Police statement on Rushdie attack

New York State Police released this statement on the attack, which an Associated Press reporter witnessed.

"State Police are investigating an attack on author Salman Rushdie prior to a speaking event at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, NY.

"On August 12, 2022, at about 11 a.m., a male suspect ran up onto the stage and attacked Rushdie and an interviewer. 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. The Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office assisted at the scene.

The police said a trooper next to the stage "immediately" took the attacker into custody. The State Police and the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office assisted at the scene and — shortly after the attack — brought in an explosive detection K9 that assisted in clearing a bag the suspect had with him.

USA Today report:'Satanic Verses' author Salman Rushdie attacked on stage, suffers 'apparent stab wound to the neck'

Chautauqua Institution statement on the attack

Here is a statement from Chautauqua Institution spokesperson Jordan Steves:

"Chautauqua Institution is currently coordinating with law enforcement and emergency officials on a public response following today's attack of Salman Rushdie on the Chautauqua Amphitheater stage. We will provide more details as we know them."

At 12:45 pm. the institution restored normal security measures. It is not accepting day-pass holders, only season-pass holders, officials said. All programs were canceled after the attack on Rushdie, according to the institution.

New York governor's statement on the attack

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul condemned the attack and praised Rushdie.

"He 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," Hochul said. "We are undeterred in our commitment to make sure that we call it out, we condemn what happened, we condemn all violence, and we want people to feel that freedom to speak and to write truth."

State Sen. Dan Laughlin issues statement on attack

In a statement issued Friday afternoon, state Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-49th Dist., Erie, called the attack both "vicious and indefensible."

“The prayers of every freedom-loving person go out for Salman Rushdie following the vicious and indefensible attack on him 33 years after the leader of a terrorist state publicly called for his murder. It is a reminder that evil never sleeps, but freedom itself can never die so long as men like Salman Rushdie walk among us. That it happened at The Chautauqua Institution, a place synonymous with free expression, is an outrage to which we must not succumb.

“Our thoughts also turn toward Henry Reese, the co-founder of City of Asylum Pittsburgh, part of a worldwide collection of centers for persecuted writers. Mr. Reese was moderating a public discussion with Mr. Rushdie at the Chautauqua Institution when a would-be assassin charged the stage. It is worth noting that Mr. Reese and co-founder Diane Samuel were inspired to create the Pittsburgh center after hearing a talk by Mr. Rushdie.

“It is fortunate that Mr. Rushdie was taken to Erie, where two top-ranked hospitals stand ready to save lives. He is in the best of hands at UPMC Hamot and we look forward to the day that Salman Rushdie and Henry Reese can visit Erie as writers, teachers and living examples of the personal courage from which freedom of expression springs.”

About Salman Rushdie

Rushdie's lecture at Chautauqua was scheduled to be with Henry Reese, whom the institution described as "co-founder and president of City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, which was founded in 2004 to provide sanctuary in Pittsburgh to writers exiled under threat of persecution."

According to USA Today, Rushdie is the author of 12 novels, six of which are USA TODAY best sellers, most notably "The Satanic Verses," which has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous. A year later, Ayatollah Khomeini issued the fatwa, or edict, that called for Rushdie's death.

Iran has also offered over $3 million in reward money for anyone who kills Rushdie.

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.

Rushdie dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was “no evidence” of people being interested in the reward.

That year, Rushdie published a memoir, "Joseph Anton," about the fatwa.

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

This is a developing story. Return to GoErie.com for updates.

Staff writer Ed Palattella contributed to this report.

A.J. Rao can be reached at arao@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNRao.

Contact Tim Hahn at thahn@timesnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNhahn.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Reaction of Salman Rushdie being attacked at Chautauqua Institution