Salman Rushdie stabbing witness describes chaos as author was 'assaulted for 20 to 40 seconds' in horror knife attack | The Sun

A HORRIFIED witness who saw Salman Rushdie repeatedly stabbed at an event in New York has revealed shocking details about the brutal attack.

Rabbi Charles Savenor, the 53-year-old executive director of an organization called Civic Spirit, told The U.S. Sun he was in the crowd when the violence against Rushdie erupted for nearly a minute.

Rushdie, 75, was allegedly attacked by 24-year-old Hadi Matar as he was being introduced at a summer literature festival at the Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater in western New York.

Savenor said the horrific violence went on for "20 to 40 seconds" before Rushdie's alleged attacker was subdued– but the famed writer is currently on a ventilator and may lose an eye.

According to ABC News, Matar, of New Jersey, is currently in New York State Police custody, while Rushdie has been left severely injured, with severed nerves and liver damage.

NY State Police said the alleged attacker stormed the stage and began attacking Rushdie – who was scheduled to speak alongside author Henry Reese.

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"This, with Mr. Rushdie and Henry Reese, was going to be the highlight of the week," Savenor exclusively told The U.S. Sun.

"It was a talk about how America and other democracies can support political writers."

Rushdie's controversial works, including the novel The Satanic Verses, led to a series of death threats and even a massive bounty on his head after his depictions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad were seen as disrespectful.

Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini sent out a fatwa, or order, calling for Rushdie's death in exchange for over $3million during a broadcast on Radio Tehran on February 14, 1989.

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"There was great enthusiasm and excitement to hear about the topic from someone who has lived through this traumatic fatwa," Savenor told The U.S. Sun.

Tragically, enthusiasm soon turned to panic when Rushdie was attacked just seconds after coming on stage around 10.45am ET.

“They went and proceeded to their seats and about 15 seconds later someone jumped onto the stage from the lefthand side and bolted for Mr. Rushdie," Savenor said.

“The assault began with him seated, and I think he fell to the ground. It was chaotic.

“He was being assaulted for 20 to 40 seconds, I don’t really know because it happened really fast.

“At first no one knew how to respond. We didn’t know what we were witnessing, what we were looking at.

“We were about 75 feet away and we saw the assailant attack Mr. Rushdie."


“His arm was going up and down, I didn’t know if he was punching him or if he had a knife," Savenor recalled.

“The crowd was just shocked but within a few seconds, there was a sense that we were witnessing an assault in real-time."

Eyewitness John Mulherin, 80, a retired attorney from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, who was an attendee at the event also told The U.S. Sun that a “dead silence” came over the audience following the attack.

While Savenor watched in horror, he pulled out his phone and captured exclusive footage obtained by The U.S. Sun.

“I don’t know how I thought to record it with my phone but I recorded it, I thought I was seeing something so surreal that I just wanted to record it," he said.

Photos from the event showed a crowd rushing to aid the injured novelist. The audience also reportedly tackled the attacker.

The audience was asked to evacuate "quickly and quietly" after the horrific event took place, the eyewitness said.


Avi Abraham Benlolo, founder and chairman of The Abraham Global Peace Initiative, also spoke with The U.S. Sun about the chilling warnings from an unknown caller who threatened to put “a bullet” in his head.

“He was always concerned about this,” said Benlolo. 

“He was concerned about his security but had to live his life. In my view, he was a real hero for projecting free thinking and he didn't allow the Iranian dictatorship to stop him.”

Benlolo said he hosted an event with Rushdie in 2010 and said that the author had been concerned with his safety even back then. 

“I've met many people; prime ministers, US presidents and he was one of the most prolific thinkers I've ever met. 

“We talked about extremism and that's what I think prompted this attack.”

Benlolo even received threats himself for hosting the event. 

“Someone left a voicemail you're hosting him you're going to get a bullet in your head. 

“Because of that, I had to get in touch with police and they increased their presence around the gathering.”


Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims consider it offensive to Islam.

The Satanic Verses use magical realism that was partly inspired by the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

He spent about 10 years under police protection in the United Kingdom, living in hiding after Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s execution.

Rushdie dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was “no evidence” of people being interested in the $3million reward.

However, over the years, there have been several failed assassination attempts on Rushdie, including attacks on several people connected to its publication.

In 1991, Japanese translator Hitoshi Igarashi was fatally stabbed and an Italian translator was also nearly killed in another attack.

In 2012, Rushdie published a memoir, Joseph Anton, about the fatwa.

Rushdie has been a prominent spokesman for free expression and liberal causes.

He is a former president of PEN America, which said it was “reeling from shock and horror” at the attack.


“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” CEO Suzanne Nossel told AP News.

“Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered."

Rushdie's stabbing comes weeks after a member of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was charged with allegedly plotting to kill former national security adviser John Bolton.

Shahram, Poursafi, of Tehran, alleged that beginning in October 2021, he attempted to arrange Bolton's murder, likely in retaliation for the killing of Qassem Soleimani back in January 2020.

Working on behalf of the Quds Force, Poursafi attempted to pay $300,000 to people in the US for the murder, the Justice Department claims.

The department said there is no evidence that Poursafi has ever been to the US. He remains at large overseas and is wanted by the FBI.

Meanwhile, NYPD officials arrested a man with a loaded AK-47 assault rifle outside the home of outspoken Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad, 45, in Brooklyn on July 29.

Law enforcement officials observed Khalid Mehdiyev behaving suspiciously near Alinejad's home, attempting to open the front door and peeping through windows.

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Alinejad has criticized the Iranian government for its status on human rights, particularly women's rights, and fled the country in 2009.

In 2020, Iranian officials unleashed a social media campaign calling for her abduction and return to the Islamic nation.

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