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Injured Rushdie event host thought attack was 'bad prank'

By AFP - Aug 15,2022 - Last updated at Aug 15,2022

In this image grab from a video courtesy of Horatio Gates recorded on Friday, Salman Rushdie is seen being loaded onto a medical evacuation helicopter near the Chautauqua Institution after being stabbed in the neck while speaking on stage in Chautauqua, New York (AFP photo)

NEW YORK — The man set to interview Salman Rushdie in New York state moments before the renowned novelist was attacked said on Sunday he initially thought someone was playing a cruel joke, but was jolted to reality when he saw blood.

Henry Reese, president of non-profit group City of Asylum, was also injured when an assailant stormed a literary event stage on Friday and stabbed Rushdie in the neck and abdomen; he said it took several moments to grasp what was taking place.

"It was very difficult to understand. It looked like a sort of bad prank and it didn't have any sense of reality," Reese, 73, told CNN.

"Then when there was blood behind him, it became real."

Reese, who appeared on the network on Sunday with a large bandage over his bruised and swollen right eye, declined to discuss specifics about the attack.

But he said that when a man raced onstage he thought the incident was a "bad reference" to the religious decree that Iran's leaders had issued calling for Muslims to kill Rushdie, and "not that it was a real attack".

The suspected assailant, Hadi Matar, 24, was wrestled to the ground by staff and other audience members before being taken into police custody.

Rushdie spent years under police protection after Iranian leaders called for his killing over his portrayal of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed in his novel "The Satanic Verses".

Reese said he was due to discuss with Rushdie the City of Asylum movement, which seeks to protect freedom of expression and which Reese said he launched after hearing an inspirational Rushdie address in 1997.

"That is the grim sort of irony — or maybe intention — to not only assault his body, but to assault everything that he represented," Reese said.

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