Author Sir Salman Rushdie, who has faced death threats for his novel The Satanic Verses, has apparently been stabbed in the neck while on stage at an event in New York state.

The Indian-born British author has been taken to hospital by helicopter but his condition is not yet known.

The 75-year-old was about to give a lecture when a man stormed the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and began attacking Sir Salman as he was being introduced, according to witnesses.

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Rushdie airlifted to hospital

The novelist, who became an American citizen in 2016, fell to the floor when the suspect attacked him. He was restrained and is now in custody.

Authorities said the interviewer at the event suffered a minor head injury after also being attacked.

State police said in a statement they are “investigating an attack on author Salman Rushdie prior to a speaking event at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, NY”.

“At about 11am, 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.”

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They added: “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 statement gave no motive for the attack.

A video posted online showed a number of people rushing on stage in the aftermath as Sir Salman was tended to.

People ran onto the stage to help after Salman Rushdie was attacked
Image:
People ran onto the stage to help after Salman Rushdie was attacked
People ran onto the stage to help when Salman Rushdie was attacked

A picture circulating on social media appeared to show Sir Salman with his legs slightly raised and someone applying pressure to his abdomen.

On stage there were two yellow chairs, a table and rug.

Dozens of audience members were present during the incident.

Sir Salman was there to take part in a discussion about the US serving as asylum for writers and artists in exile and “as a home for freedom of creative expression”, according to the institution’s website.

Salman Rushdie pictured in 2018
Image:
Salman Rushdie pictured in 2018

In a statement, the institution said “it 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”.

His book, The Satanic Verses, has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous.

In 1989, Iran’s then leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Sir Salman’s death.

Novelist Salman Rushdie holds paperback copy of his controversial novel. "The Satanic Verses" March 4, 1992. Pic: AP
Image:
Pic: AP

The Middle East country also offered a bounty of more than $3m for anyone who kills Rushdie.

In 1998, Iran’s pro-reform government of President Mohammad Khatami distanced itself from the fatwa, saying the threat against Rushdie was over after he had lived in hiding for nine years.

The book’s Japanese translator was stabbed to death in 1991 and other people involved in publishing it were attacked.

But Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor as Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in 2005 that the fatwa was still valid and three hardline clerics called on followers to kill Rushdie.

Rushdie continued to write despite threat to life

Salman Rushdie is an Indian-born British author whose writing about religion and politics has made him controversial in some parts of the world.

His first three novels – Grimus (1975), Midnight’s Children (1981) and Shame (1983) – were all met with praise but it was his fourth – The Satanic Verses – that brought criticism.

Some of the scenes in the 1988 book depict a character modelled on the Prophet Muhammad and this was met with anger from some members of the Muslim community in the UK.

Protests spread to Pakistan in January 1989 and the following month, the spiritual leader of revolutionary Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, condemned the book and issued a fatwa against him.

A bounty was offered for his death. Rushdie went into hiding under the protection of Scotland Yard in the UK, although he appeared in public occasionally.

Despite the threat to his life, he continued to write and in 1998 the Iranian government said it would no longer enforce the fatwa. But Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor as Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in 2005 that the fatwa was still valid.

Rushdie wrote about his experience in the third-person memoir Joseph Anton in 2012. He was knighted in 2007, a move that was criticised by the Iranian and Pakistani governments.