How LAX security led to Salman Rushdie’s stabbing: Bags allowed inside, no metal detectors or checkpoint
According to multiple witnesses, Matar was able to easily approach Salman Rushdie by running onstage and approaching him from the back
CHAUTAUQUA, NEW YORK: Several security failures influenced the stabbing attack on Salman Rushdie on the stage for the CHQ 2022 event in Chautauqua, near Buffalo in upstate New York, on Friday, August 12 morning. Rushdie, 75, who was stabbed up to 15 times, including once in the neck by Hadi Matar, 24 was airlifted to a hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania is on a ventilator.
According to witnesses and one former employee told The Daily Beast that he had long feared such an attack due to the security casualty. "No security checkpoint is required for attendees to enter the lecture hall at the Chautauqua Institution, where Rushdie was stabbed in the neck on stage, and bags were also allowed in the hall," as per one of the shocking claims.
A "disgusted" former Chautauqua Institution employee, who spoke on the request of anonymity, said in an interview on Friday, August 12 that the poor regulatory security measures, which he claimed remained in place despite some employees' recommendations, were bound to cause a problem at some point, Daily Beast reported. “We warned leadership for years that something like this would happen,” the employee said. “But leaders felt extra security measures would ruin the friendly feel and openness of the institute.”
As per the website of the Chautauqua Institution, its lecture hall is located within a gated community, which requires a pass to access—a pass that Rushdie’s attacker was able to purchase, the New York State Police said Friday, August 12. According to police, the alleged attacker, 24-year-old Matar, ran onto the stage as Rushdie was being introduced and stabbed the author twice in the neck and once in the abdomen. Authorities said Rushdie was still in surgery on Friday evening.
According to multiple witnesses, Matar was able to easily approach Rushdie by running onstage and approaching him from the back, the New York Times reported. Matar's backpack was recovered at the scene by state authorities after he was apprehended. Erin Rowley, a frequent visitor to the institute who was there with her family on Friday, August 12, said that "you can bring whatever" into the amphitheater, which hosts daily speakers throughout the summer.
“I know myself from attending other events where you can bring whatever you want in, except for food or drink,” Rowley told The Daily Beast. “People often have tote bags or shopping bags from the shops nearby. They do not check those things when entering.” Kyle Doershuk, a 20-year-old usher, told The New York Times that he saw Matar drop his backpack and rush the stage with a knife in his hand about 15 feet in front of him. Doershuck described the institution's security as lax, telling the Times that "something like this was just bound to happen."
Another attendee, John Bulette, told the Times, "There was a huge security lapse." “That somebody could get that close without any intervention was frightening.” The revelations are all the more shocking given Rushdie's precarious situation: since the publication of his novel 'The Satanic Verses' in 1988, he has been forced into police protection for a decade, has been the target of attempted assassinations, and has had a $4 million bounty placed on his head that is still active today.
According to authorities, it was a police officer who ended up making it on stage and stopped Matar's assault, but only after Rushdie had been stabbed twice. In a press conference on Friday, Governor Kathy Hochul praised the officer, saying he saved Rushdie's life. According to the former employee who spoke to The Daily Beast, all recommendations from a security committee in recent years—about adding metal detectors, banning bags, increasing the number of security guards, and holding risk training—were all shot down by the leadership.
During this conflict between the institute's leadership and certain employees, the employee stated that Chautauqua's head of campus security and safety, who was previously the sheriff of Chautauqua County, resigned from the position in 2021, only two years after taking the job. “Absolutely disgusting to me that leadership did nothing to prevent this,” the employee said. “We kept warning them and they wouldn’t listen.”
Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses' catapulted the British-Indian author to stardom and also lead to a life threat. The book, which features a character who has a dream that resembles the story of Islam's founding, sparked a call for his assassination by Iran's supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Several violent protests against his work took place. But, the controversy touched its highest point when its Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi was murdered in 1991.
The book sparked immediate outrage in some Muslim communities, with Rushdie accused of mocking the prophet. On February 14, 1989, Khomeini issued a fatwa (or edict) demanding Rushdie's execution. Days later, the UK and Iran severed diplomatic relations. Rushdie was constantly protected by British security and secret service agents for the next 12 years. In 1991, Italian translator Ettore Capriolo was also attacked for his work on the book but survived with severe injuries. Two years later, Norwegian publisher William Nygard was shot three times but survived.
Rushdie relocated to New York City in 2002, leaving behind his British security entourage. Even though the author was in the sights of Al Qaeda. Despite death threats, Rushdie has thrived as a literary giant, even appearing in public. In 2007, he was honored for his contributions, and he was named "Distinguished Writer in Residence" at New York University, Emory University, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.