Rushdie's 'feisty' sense of humour intact despite critical condition, son says

ITV News Correspondent Ben Chapman reports from outside the hospital in Pennsylvania where Sir Salman is being treated

Sir Salman Rushdie remains in critical condition after he was stabbed on Friday, but “his usual feisty and defiant sense of humour remains intact”, his son has said in a family statement.

Sir Salman, whose novel The Satanic Verses led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was about to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in New York state, when he was stabbed multiple times.

The 75-year-old's son, Zafar Rushdie, said: “Following the attack on Friday, my father remains in critical condition in hospital receiving extensive ongoing medical treatment.

Hadi Matar said Sir Salman was ‘someone who attacked Islam’ but did not confirm that his actions were driven by a fatwa issued by Iran Credit: Gene J Puskar/AP

“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."

Zafar added that the family was grateful to audience members who "bravely" came to Sir Salman's defence during the attack and also administered first aid. He also thanked the police and doctors who assisted his father.

Audience member Stephen Davies filmed the moments after Sir Salman was attacked

Hours before the family statement was released, Sir Salman's agent Andrew Wylie said the writer had begun his "road to recovery", although the process will be "long".

The man accused of stabbing Sir Salman pleaded not guilty on Saturday to charges of attempted murder and assault, in what a prosecutor called a “pre-planned” crime.

A lawyer for Hadi Matar, 24, entered the plea on his behalf during a formal hearing at a court in western New York.

Matar appeared in court wearing a black and white jumpsuit and a white face mask, with his hands cuffed in front of him.

A judge ordered him to be held without bail after district attorney Jason Schmidt told her Matar took steps to purposely put himself in a position to harm Sir Salman, getting an advance pass to the event where the author was speaking and arriving a day early with a fake ID.

“This was a targeted, unprovoked, pre-planned attack on Mr Rushdie,” Mr Schmidt said.

Public defender Nathaniel Barone said the authorities had taken too long to get Matar in front of a judge, while leaving him “hooked up to a bench at the state police barracks”.

“He has that constitutional right of presumed innocence,” Mr Barone added.

Sir Salman was stabbed at least once in the neck and once in the abdomen, according to police, before he was taken to hospital.

Mr Wylie had said on Saturday that the 75-year-old could lose an eye after he sustained injuries to his arm and liver in the attack.

Sir Salman’s publisher Penguin Random House said they were “deeply shocked and appalled” by the incident.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend”.

He added: “Right now my thoughts are with his loved ones. We are all hoping he is okay.”

Blood stains from the attack mark a screen on the stage. Credit: Joshua Goodman/AP

President Joe Biden also expressed his shock at the attack.

“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,” his statement read.

Sir Salman began his writing career in the early 1970s with two unsuccessful books before Midnight’s Children, about the birth of India, which won the Booker Prize in 1981.

The author lived in hiding for many years in London under a British government protection programme after the fatwa.

In 1998, the Iranian government withdrew its support for the death sentence and Sir Salman gradually returned to public life, even appearing as himself in the 2001 film Bridget Jones’s Diary.

The Index on Censorship, an organisation promoting free expression, said money was raised to boost the reward for Sir Salman’s killing as recently as 2016, underscoring that the fatwa still stands.

He was knighted in 2008 and earlier this year was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours.