The venue where famed author Salman Rushdie — whose controversial work sparked death threats — was stabbed on Friday had rejected previous recommendations to tighten security measures, two sources told CNN.
Rushdie, 75, was stabbed at least twice on stage at the Chautauqua Institution before giving a talk, New York State Police said Friday. He was airlifted to a hospital in northwestern Pennsylvania and underwent surgery, a Pennsylvania police official said.
Later that day, Rushdie was put on a ventilator and was unable to speak, his agent, Andrew Wylie, told The New York Times. He’ll probably lose an eye, Wylie said. “The nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged. The news is not good.
A suspect was taken into custody shortly after, and authorities are working to determine the motive and charges, state police said.
After the attack, questions were raised about safety precautions — or lack thereof — at the host facility, which is in a rural resort town about 70 miles south of Buffalo, New York.
The institution’s management had rejected recommendations for basic security measures, including bag checks and metal detectors, fearing it would drive a wedge between speakers and the public, according to two sources who spoke to each other. interviewed with CNN. Management also feared it would change the culture of the institution, the sources said.
Both sources have first-hand knowledge of the security situation at Chautauqua Institution and past recommendations and spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
It is unclear whether the recommended measures would have prevented Rushdie’s attack based on information released about the incident Friday night. Authorities have not disclosed the type of weapon that was used in the attack.
There were no security searches or metal detectors at the event, a person who witnessed the attack told CNN. 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 Friday.
The institution’s president, Michael Hill, defended his organization’s security plans when asked at a press conference on Friday whether there would be more precautions at future events.
“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 State Trooper and Sheriff presence there,” said Hill. “We will assess for each of the events at the facility what we believe is the appropriate level of security and this is an ongoing process that we are working on in conjunction with local law enforcement.”
Henry Reese, co-founder of the nonprofit City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, was also injured Friday, and was expected to join Rushdie for a talk, police said. He was taken to hospital and treated for a facial injury and released.
Rushdie’s writings have won several literary awards, including the Booker Prize for his 1981 book, Midnight’s Children. But it was his fourth novel “The Satanic Verses” that attracted the most attention as some Muslims found the book sacrilegious, and its publication in 1988 sparked public protests.
Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who described the book as an insult to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, issued a religious decree, or fatwa, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.
Authorities were at the New Jersey home linked to the suspect
The suspect in the attack has been identified as Hadi Matar of Fairview, New Jersey, New York State Troop Commander Maj. Eugene J. Staniszewski said Friday night at a press conference.
The attack happened around 10:45 a.m. when Rushdie was introduced, a witness told CNN. A man in a black shirt seemed to “hit” the author. The witness, who was about 75 feet from the scene, did not hear the assailant say anything or see a weapon.
Another witness, Joyce Lussier, was sitting in the second row when she saw a man who “staggered across the scene and headed straight for 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 heard people screaming and crying and saw people from the audience rushing onto the stage, she said.
Matar, 24, allegedly 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 to the attacker and took him to the ground before a state trooper took him into custody, police said.
By Friday night, police had blocked off the street leading to the New Jersey home believed to be linked to the suspect.
Iran’s bounty was never lifted
Rushdie, the son of a successful Muslim businessman in India, was educated in England, first at rugby school and then at Cambridge University where he earned a master’s degree in history.
After college he began working as a copywriter in London, before publishing his first novel, “Grimus” in 1975.
In 1989, following the fatwa, Rushdie began a decade under British protection.
Rushdie told CNN in 1999 that the experience taught him “to value even more…intensely the things that I used to value, like the art of literature and the freedom of speech and the right to say things that the others don’t like it.
“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.
Despite this, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently 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 that Imam Khomeini published”.