The man suspected of stabbing Salman Rushdie on a college podium in western New York was charged Saturday with second-degree attempted murder for assaulting the acclaimed novelist and second-degree assault for wounding the moderator of the event.
The suspect — identified as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey — was charged with the crime and held without bail in the Chautauqua County Jail, Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt said.
A lawyer for Matar has made a plea on his behalf.
Local prosecutors say they are in contact with New Jersey law enforcement officers “to better understand the planning and preparation that preceded the attack” and to determine whether further charges are warranted.
“This is the very early stage of what will always be a lengthy legal process,” Schmidt said in a statement. “We will try to be as transparent as possible without jeopardizing the matter.”
Rushdie, 75, had surgery after being stabbed at least once in the neck and abdomen during the Friday morning attack, police said. The author was on stage to speak at the Chautauqua Institute, about 70 miles south of Buffalo, when authorities said Matar confronted him.
Social media videos from the auditorium showed the chaotic aftermath.
“He didn’t say a word, he didn’t say anything,” said Julia Mineeva-Braun, who had been in the fifth row, of the attacker. She said she saw Rushdie stabbed first in the neck and then a few more times in the shoulder blade before onlookers rushed to his aid.
Rushdie was flown to a hospital in nearby Erie, Pennsylvania, where a facility spokeswoman declined to provide an update on his condition. His literary agent, Andrew Wylie, said Friday night that he had a damaged liver, severed nerves in an arm and an eye, and was on a ventilator. The Associated Press reported:.
Henry Reese, 73, who was also onstage to lead the discussion with Rushdie, suffered minor facial injuries during the attack, police said. He was treated and released.
Rushdie caused controversy for his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses,” which portrays the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and is considered blasphemous by some Muslims. In Iran, the book was banned and prompted Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa or edict calling for Rushdie’s death.
Rushdie, who was born in India and became a US citizen in 2016, was at the Chautauqua Institute literary festival to talk about the United States as a haven for writers and artists in exile, according to the AP.
Authorities have not given a motive for the attack. State police said the FBI and the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the investigation.
A preliminary assessment of Matar’s social media shows that he sympathized with Shia extremism and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, said a law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the investigation.
Matar was detained after Chautauqua Institute staff and other guests stormed the stage, police said.
In addition, the location had bolstered its law enforcement presence for high-profile events, according to New York State Police Major Eugene Staniszewski, explaining why a trooper and deputy sheriff were able to mobilize quickly on the spot.
“They asked for law enforcement officers to be present,” Staniszewski told reporters on Friday. “And luckily we were.”
The attack raised questions about security’s response and whether there was enough for an event involving a writer who had lived in hiding for years due to death threats against him. On Saturday, the Chautauqua Institute said it would enforce a “no bag” policy at its amphitheatre.
World leaders continued to show support for Rushdie after the violence, with some saying the attack threatens creative expression. Rushdie is known for books that interweave magical realism with historical allegory.
“Violence is in no way a reaction to words spoken or written by others in their exercise of freedom of opinion and expression,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
Jonathan Service, Brittany Kubicko and Josh Craduck contributed.