President Joe Biden on Saturday condemned the frenzied attack on Salman Rushdie on a New York lecture stage that has left the author on a ventilator.
“Jill and I were shocked and saddened to learn of the vicious attack on Salman Rushdie yesterday in New York,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House. “We, together with all Americans and people around the world, are praying for his health and recovery. I am grateful to the first responders and the brave individuals who jumped into action to render aid to Rushdie and subdue the attacker.”
Rushdie, whose novel “The Satanic Verses” drew death threats from Iran’s leader in the 1980s, was flown to a hospital and underwent surgery after he was stabbed in the neck and abdomen before a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution on Friday. His agent, Andrew Wylie, said the writer was on a ventilator Friday evening, with a damaged liver, severed nerves in his arm and an eye he was likely to lose.
The man accused of carrying out the attack has entered a not-guilty plea in a New York court on charges of attempted murder and assault. An attorney for Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, entered the plea on his behalf during an arraignment hearing Saturday.
Matar was born in the United States to Lebanese parents who emigrated from Yaroun, a border village in southern Lebanon, Mayor Ali Tehfe told The Associated Press. His birth was a decade after Indian-born Rushdie drew death threats on publication of “The Satanic Verses,” with many Muslims regarding as blasphemy a dream sequence based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections.
The book was banned in Iran, where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.
“Salman Rushdie—with his insight into humanity, with his unmatched sense for story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced—stands for essential, universal ideals,” Biden said in the statement. “Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society. And today, we reaffirm our commitment to those deeply American values in solidarity with Rushdie and all those who stand for freedom of expression.”
The incident came as the U.S. is believed close to reviving the Iran nuclear deal and amid news this week that the Justice Department has charged an Iranian operative in a suspected scheme to kill former Trump administration national security adviser John Bolton.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.