Sir Salman Rushdie’s “feisty and defiant humour remains intact”, his family said after the author was taken off life support while receiving treatment for life-changing injuries caused by multiple stab wounds.
His son Zafar Rushdie issued a statement on behalf of the family on Sunday while the writer remained in a critical condition following the attack at a literary event in the state of New York on Friday.
Mr Rushdie was stabbed about 10 times, including in the neck and the abdomen, as he prepared to give a lecture – said prosecutors who accused Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old US citizen, of attempted murder.
New York State Police said they are working with the FBI to establish a motive for the attack on the author of The Satanic Verses, a novel that some Muslims believe to be blasphemous.
His son said: “My father remains in critical condition in hospital receiving extensive ongoing treatment. We are extremely relieved that yesterday he was taken off the ventilator and additional oxygen and he was able to say a few words.
“Though his life changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty & defiant sense of humour remains intact.”
In his statement, he also thanked event attendees to the event at the Chautauqua Institution, who jumped into action to fight off Mr Matar.
He said: “We are so grateful to all the audience members who bravely leapt to his defence and administered first aid along with the police and doctors who have cared for him and for the outpouring of love and support from around the world.
“We ask for continued patience and privacy as the family come together at his bedside to support and help him through this time.”
Mr Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie, reported that the writer’s “road to recovery has begun” following surgery and the withdrawal of the ventilator.
He said Sir Salman, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, and that he was likely to lose the injured eye.
“It will be long; the injuries are severe, but his condition is headed in the right direction,” Mr Wylie said.
Mr Rushdie’s alleged attacker — New Jersey-based Mr Matar — was charged with one count of attempted murder and one count of second-degree assault by the Chautauqua County district attorney’s office.
Mr Matar was taken to the Chautauqua County jail on Friday night and appeared in court the following day, where he pleaded not guilty to the charges.
A judge ordered that Mr Matar be held without bail after district attorney Jason Schmidt told her that the suspect took steps for the “pre-planned crime” by purposely putting himself in a position to harm Mr Rushdie by getting an advance ticket to the event and arriving a day early bearing a fake ID.
Mr Matar was reportedly found with a fake driver’s licence that had the name Hassan Mughniyeh.
It is believed that he used the surname of Imad Mughniyeh – the assassinated senior Hezbollah official who was close to Qassem Soleimani, the assassinated chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force.
A law enforcement official cited by NBC said a preliminary review of Matar’s social media shows he had sympathies for the IRGC – which has been labelled a terrorist organisation by the US.
Authorities are looking into those alleged sympathies, but there are no concrete links between Mr Matar and the IRGC, the law enforcement official said.
Public defender Nathaniel Barone complained that authorities had taken too long to get Mr Matar in front of a judge while leaving him “hooked up to a bench at the state police barracks”.
Henry Reese, who was hosting the event where Mr Rushdie was attacked, said “it looked like a sort of bad prank”.
He appeared on CNN with a bandage above his eye and said: “It didn’t have any sense of reality. And then when there was blood behind [Mr Rushdie], it became real.”
The attack on Mr Rushdie has been met with shock and outrage, along with tributes and praise for the award-winning author of The Satanic Verses who, for more than 30 years, has faced death threats.
Mr Rushdie, a native of India who has since lived in Britain and the US, is known for his surreal and satirical prose style, beginning with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel Midnight’s Children, in which he sharply criticised India’s then-prime minister, Indira Gandhi.
President Joe Biden condemned the “vicious” attack on Mr Rushdie, saying that “all Americans and people around the world are praying for his health and recovery”.
He added: “I am grateful to the first responders and the brave individuals who jumped into action to render aid to Rushdie and subdue the attacker.
“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. 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.”
Writer and longtime friend Ian McEwan called Mr Rushdie “an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists across the world,” and actor-author Kal Penn cited him as a role model “for an entire generation of artists, especially many of us in the South Asian diaspora toward whom he’s shown incredible warmth”.
Author JK Rowling told her fans that the police are involved after a tweet about Sir Salman prompted a death threat on Twitter. Following the attack, Rowling tweeted: “Horrifying news. Feeling very sick right now. Let him be ok.”
The Satanic Verses drew death threats after it was published in 1988, with some Muslims regarding as blasphemy a dream sequence based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections.
Mr Rushdie’s book had already been banned and burned in India, Pakistan and elsewhere before Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for his death in 1989.