By Alex Green, Naomi Clarke and Edward Dracott
NEW YORK - A man has been taken into custody after Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed on stage in New York state.
The 75-year-old Indian-born British author, whose writing led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was about to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution when the incident occurred.
Sir Salman suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck and was transported to hospital by helicopter where his condition remains unclear, state police said.
Photos from the Associated Press news agency showed him lying on his back with his legs in the air and a first responder crouched over him.
Sir Salman’s book The Satanic Verses has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims view it as blasphemous, and its publication prompted Iran’s then-leader Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa calling for his execution.
Sir Salman was due to speak to Henry Reese, from the City of Asylum organisation, a residency programme for writers living in exile under threat of persecution.
They were due to discuss America’s role as an asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression.
A video posted to Twitter by an Associated Press reporter in the audience showed a man dressed in black being lead away from the stage.
A statement from New York State Police said: “On August 12 2022, at about 11am, a male suspect ran up on to 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. More information will be released when it is available.”
New York governor Kathy Hochul told a press conference that a state police officer saved his life and that of the moderator, who she said was also attacked.
She added: “He is alive, he has been airlifted to safety. But here 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.”
The Chautauqua Institution, which was hosting the lecture tweeted about the incident, writing: “We ask for your prayers for Salman Rushdie and Henry Reese, and patience as we fully focus on co-ordinating with police officials following a tragic incident at the Amphitheater today.
“All programs are canceled for the remainder of the day. Please consult the NYS Police statement.”
Jeremy Genovese, 68, from Beachwood, Ohio, a retired academic from Cleveland State University, told the PA news agency he arrived at the amphitheatre as it was being evacuated and that people were “streaming out”.
He said: “People were in shock, many people in tears. Chautauqua has always prided itself as a place where people can engage in civil dialogue.
“The amphitheatre is a large outdoor venue where people have given lectures since the late 1800s. You need a pass to access the grounds but it is not too difficult get in.”
Sir Salman Rushdie’s publisher Penguin Random House said they are “deeply shocked and appalled” by the incident.
The chief executive of Penguin Random House, Markus Dohle, said in a statement to the PA news agency: “We are deeply shocked and appalled to hear of the attack on Salman Rushdie while he was speaking at the Chautauqua Institution in New York.
“We condemn this violent public assault, and our thoughts are with Salman and his family at this distressing time.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter he was “appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend”.
He added: “Right now my thoughts are with his loved ones. We are all hoping he is okay.”
Sir Salman was previously president of PEN America, which celebrates free expression and speech, and its chief executive Suzanne Nossel was among those reacting to the attack.