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Salman Rushdie taken off ventilator as ‘road to recovery’ begins, agent says

Novelist and essayist Salman Rushdie during a photo session in Paris in 2018. (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

Author Salman Rushdie has been taken off a ventilator and “the road to recovery has begun,” his agent said Sunday, two days after the renowned novelist was stabbed in the neck and abdomen at an event in western New York.

“The injuries are severe, but his condition is headed in the right direction,” Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie, said in a statement to The Washington Post, adding that the recovery process would be lengthy.

Rushdie’s son Zafar also released a statement on Twitter on Sunday morning confirming that his father was taken off the ventilator and was “able to say a few words.”

“Though his life changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty & defiant sense of humor remains intact,” Zafar Rushdie wrote.

Rushdie, 75, was attacked onstage Friday at the Chautauqua Institution, where he was about to be interviewed as part of a summer lecture series. The targeting of one of the world’s most famous authors sparked anger and concern among fans and shocked the literary world.

Witnesses among the crowd who had gathered to hear Rushdie speak said they saw the attacker stab him multiple times. Wylie told the Associated Press that Rushdie had suffered damage to his liver and nerves in one arm, and that he would probably lose an eye. A doctor in the audience attended to Rushdie before paramedics arrived and transported him to a hospital by helicopter.

Police took Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old New Jersey man, into custody at the scene. He was arraigned on Saturday and charged with attempted murder and assault.

Born in India, Rushdie had spent much of his life in Britain when he went into hiding after Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the author’s execution over the portrayal of Islam and the prophet Muhammad in his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses,” which was deemed blasphemous by some Muslims.

Magical realism author Salman Rushdie has received death threats since 1988. (Video: The Washington Post)

World leaders including President Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the attack on Rushdie, which many see as an attack on freedom of expression.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also issued a statement on Sunday, slamming those who had advocated his killing.

“Iranian state institutions have incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media recently gloated about the attempt on his life. This is despicable,” Blinken said.

Sales of the controversial book have spiked dramatically on Amazon in recent days and, as of Sunday, the novel is No. 11 in the bestsellers list.

Who is Salman Rushdie?

Although the Iranian bounty for his death was for more than $3 million, Rushdie — a British American citizen who moved to New York in the early 2000s — had appeared at public literary events in the past, sometimes without security guards visible. Attendees of the event in Chautauqua said there were no security checks on Friday. An official from the venue said the suspect had a pass to enter the grounds.

During an address at the Chautauqua Institution on Sunday afternoon, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) suggested that both Rushdie’s attacker and the suspect in the shooting at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo in May that left 10 dead were radicalized online.

Hochul added that government leaders both abroad and in the United States should also be held accountable for using language that can incite violence. “I will use every tool at my disposal, including my voice, to call out this radicalization that’s going on,” Hochul said.

Kevin P. Bruen, the superintendent of the New York State Police, said Sunday that law enforcement agencies are continuing to look into the assailant’s motive.

Hochul added that “details will come” as the investigation moves forward. “We will find out the motivation, confirm what it is,” Hochul said. “We have our suspicions about what it is, so there is an investigative path that will continue.”

Henry Reese, co-founder of the Pittsburgh-based City of Asylum, was onstage and was supposed to interview Rushdie on Friday. He was attacked in the face, and was treated and released from the hospital.

During an interview with Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” Reese, who had a visible bandage over one of his eyes, said he did not want to discuss the incident in detail.

But Reese said that at first, when the attacker jumped onstage, he “immediately thought someone was making some kind of bad reference” to the Iranian fatwa against Rushdie. He didn’t expect it to be “a real attack.”

“It looked like a bad prank, and it didn’t have any sense of reality. And then when there was blood behind him, it became real,” Reese said.

Tim Craig, Kelsey Ables, Joanna Slater, Elahe Izadi, Ron Charles and Carolyn Y. Johnson contributed to this report.