The suspect was identified as Hadi Matar, 24, from Fairview, New Jersey, State Police Troop Commander Major Eugene J. Staniszewski said in a Friday evening news conference. Police said they are working with the FBI and local authorities to determine what could have motivated the attack.
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 stage and stabbed Rushdie at least once in the neck and at least once in the abdomen, state police said. Staff and audience members rushed the suspect and put him on the ground before a state trooper took the attacked into custody, police said.
Rushdie was airlifted from a field adjacent to the venue — in a rural lake resort 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.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters Friday a state trooper “stood up and saved (Rushdie’s) life and protected him as well as the moderator who was attacked as well.
“Here is an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power,” the governor said of Rushdie. “Someone who has been out there unafraid, despite the threats that have followed him his entire adult life it seems.”
The suspect had a “pass to access the grounds,” Dr. Michael E. Hill, president of the Chautauqua Institution, said in the news conference. Guests can purchase passes to attend programs, Hill added.
“We take our security measures very, very seriously,” Hill said. “We’ll continue to look at providing the maximum security that we can … this has never happened in our entire history. Chautauqua has always been an extremely safe place and we will continue to be working to keep that tradition going,” Hill said.
Authorities are working with the district attorney’s office to determine what the charges for the suspect will be “once we get a little further in the investigation and determine the condition of Mr. Rushdie,” Staniszewski said.
What witnesses say happened
Rushdie was being introduced at about 10:45 am when the assault happened, according to a witness, who said he heard shouting from the audience. He said a man in a black shirt appeared to be “punching” the author. The witness, who was 75 feet from the stage, did not hear the attacker say anything or see a weapon.
Some people in the audience ran to render aid while others went after the attacker, the witness said. State police said a doctor who was in the audience during the event rendered aid to Rushdie until emergency responders arrived.
Joyce Lussier, 83, who was in the second row of the amphitheater during the attack, said Rushdie and Reese had taken a seat on the right-hand side of the stage when suddenly, a man who appeared to be in all black “lurched across the stage and got right to Mr. Rushdie.”
“He came in the left side and leapt across the stage and just lunged at him. In, I don’t know, two seconds he was across that stage,” Lussier said. She added she could hear people screaming and crying and saw people from the audience rushing up to the stage.
“They caught him right away, he did not get off the stage at all,” Lussier said of the suspect. Shortly after, the crowd was asked to evacuate, she added.
Another witness told CNN there were no security searches or metal detectors at the event. The witness is not being identified because they expressed concerns for their personal safety.
The witness said the attacker “walked quickly” down an aisle and jumped on stage, approaching the author and “making a stabbing motion with his hand repeatedly.”
A third 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 in a half-standing position. She said she fled the open-air amphitheater “shaking like a leaf” in fear.
‘His essential voice cannot and will not be silenced’
In a statement the nonprofit education center and summer resort said it is “coordinating with law enforcement and emergency officials on a public response following today’s attack of Salman Rushdie on the Chautauqua Amphitheater stage.”
Writers such as Stephen King and JK Rowling expressed well-wishes for Rushdie via Twitter.
“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.
“We hope and believe fervently that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced.”
Furor over ‘The Satanic Verses’ hounded Rushdie
The 75-year-old novelist — the son of a successful Muslim businessman in India — was educated in England, first at Rugby School and later at the University of Cambridge where he received an MA degree in history.
After college, he began working as an advertising copywriter in London, before publishing his first novel, “Grimus” in 1975.
Rushdie’s treatment of delicate political and religious subjects turned him into a controversial figure. But it was the publication of his fourth novel “The Satanic Verses” in 1988 which has hounded him for more than three decades.
Some Muslims found the book to be sacrilegious and it sparked public demonstrations. In 1989, the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called Rushdie a blasphemer and said “The Satanic Verses” was an insult to Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, and issued a religious decree, 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 taught him “to value even more … intensely the things that I valued before, such as the art of literature and the freedom of expression and the right to say things that other people don’t like .
“It may have been unpleasant a decade, but it was the right fight, you know. It was fighting for the things that I most believe in against things I most dislike, which are bigotry and fanaticism and censorship.”
The bounty against Rushdie has never been lifted, though in 1998 the Iranian government sought to distance itself from the fatwa by pledging not to seek to carry it out.
But despite what appeared to be a softening 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 it was, saying, “The decree is as Imam Khomeini issued.”
CNN’s Liam Reilly, Nicki Brown, Christina Maxouris, Jonny Hallam, Paul P. Murphy, Artemis Moshtaghian, and Mark Morales contributed to this report.