Image: Suspect Michael Enright
Steven Hirsch  /  AP
Michael Enright, right, confers with his attorney, Jason Martin, during his arraignment in a New York City courtroom on Wednesday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/25/2010 9:56:05 PM ET 2010-08-26T01:56:05

A college student accused of slashing a Muslim New York City taxi driver had recently sought publicity for a documentary he filmed about soldiers in Afghanistan.

The revelation made the motivation for the brutal Tuesday night attack difficult to determine. Some blamed the vitriolic debate going on in New York City over an Islamic center proposed to be built near Ground Zero. The movie raised the specter of fame-seeking.

Michael Enright was charged Wednesday with using a folding tool to slash the neck and face of driver Ahmed H. Sharif.

A criminal complaint alleged that Enright uttered an Arabic greeting and told the victim, "Consider this a checkpoint," before the attack inside the yellow cab on Manhattan's East Side. Police say Enright was drunk at the time.

Image: Ahmed H. Sharif
New York Taxi Workers Alliance v
This New York Taxi Workers Alliance photo shows taxi driver Ahmed H. Sharif in a hospital in New York. A drunken passenger riding in a New York City taxi cab allegedly attacked the driver after asking him if he was Muslim, police said.

A judge ordered Enright, 21, held without bail on charges of attempted murder and assault as a hate crime and weapon possession. The handcuffed defendant, wearing a polo shirt and cargo shorts, did not enter a plea during the brief court appearance.

In addition to a serious neck wound, Sharif suffered cuts to forearms, face and one hand while trying to fend off Enright, prosecutor James Zeleta said while arguing against bail.

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Defense attorney Jason Martin told the judge his client was an honors student at the School of Visual Arts who lives with his parents in suburban Brewster, N.Y.

Sharif issued a statement: "Right now, the public sentiment is very serious" because of the debate over the Islamic center. "All drivers should be more careful."

The New York City Taxi Workers Alliance and Sharif plan to hold a news conference Thursday to call for an end to biogotry and anti-Islamic rhetoric in the debate over the Islamic center.

Publicity sought for film
However, NBC reporter Katy Tur said on "Countdown with Keith Olberman" that Enright showed no animosity toward Muslims when he contacted her by email to seek publicity about his documentary, which follows a U.S. soldier Enright knew.

"He just wanted to get a point across that soldiers were not getting enough attention back in the U.S.," Tur said, noting his politeness. "He didn't say anything against Muslims or their faith."

Enright filmed the documentary while volunteering for Intersections International, a group that promotes interfaith dialogue and has supported a controversial proposed mosque near ground zero.

An Intersections representative, the Rev. Robert Chase, called the situation "tragic."

"We've been working very hard to build bridges between folks from different religions and cultures," Chase said. "This is really shocking and sad for us."

Chase said Enright had volunteered for the group for about a year on a project that involved veterans.

He did a video project that sent him to Afghanistan for about six weeks this spring to document the life of an average soldier, Chase said. He was embedded with a unit there.

Intersections has come out in support of the mosque project, but Chase said Enright wasn't involved in that.

Mayor decries attack
Sharif, a 43-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant who's driven a cab for 15 years,  accepted an invitation from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch of the supporter of the mosque, to visit City Hall on Thursday.

"This attack runs counter to everything that New Yorkers believe no matter what god we pray to," the mayor said in a statement.

Zead Ramadan of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told Countdown the attack shows how stressed teens are being affected by hate and fear mongering over the Islamic center debate. He praised Bloomberg for being "on the right side of history."

The attack report
About 6 p.m. Tuesday, Enright hailed the cab at East 24th Street and Second Avenue, said Deputy Inspector Kim Royster, a New York Police Department spokeswoman.

Sharif told authorities that during the trip, Enright asked him whether he was Muslim. When he said yes, Enright pulled out a weapon — believed to be a tool called a Leatherman — and attacked the driver, Royster said.

After the assault, the driver tried to lock Enright inside the cab and drive to a police station, police said. The suspect jumped out a rear window at East 40th Street and Third Avenue.

An officer there noticed the commotion, found Enright slumped on the sidewalk and arrested him.

A case for the tool was found inside the cab, but the tool itself was missing, police said.

Enright faces a maximum eight to 25 years in prison if convicted of the attempted murder count.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: NYC cab driver stabbed for being a Muslim

  1. Transcript of: NYC cab driver stabbed for being a Muslim

    OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York . The political background of the alleged assailant is confused and even contradictory. He worked as a volunteer videographer for a religious group which supported the Park 51 Islamic community center in New York and he may -- and he did say that he had just returned from Afghanistan , making a film there about a high school friend in the U.S. military -- was apparently deeply concerned about the people and the war there. While circumstances would suggest he may have been influenced by the Islamophobic hysteria of the last month, there are indications in the fast moving story that he may, in fact, have been more influenced by large amounts of alcohol.

    Regardless, in our fifth story tonight: 21-year-old Michael Enright got into a New York City taxi last night, asked the driver if he was Muslim, got an affirmative answer, and then allegedly slashed the driver with a knife across the neck, face and shoulders. First, Michael Enright , who was today arraigned on charges of attempted murder two, as a hate crime and other related charges, the circumstances of his alleged crimes chilling in their own right. at approximately 6:14 last night, 24th street and 2nd Avenue , the 21-year-old Enright got into the cab of a driver who was subsequently identified as Ahmed Sharif , a 43-year-old, male. According to Mr. Sharif 's statement, Mr. Enright began asking friendly questions, quoting that statement, "Where he, Mr. Sharif , was from, how long he'd been in America , if he was a Muslim, and if he was observing fast during Ramadan ." Implicit in Mr. Sharif 's statement and confirmed by the NYPD , Mr. Sharif responded that he was, indeed, a Muslim. Returning to Mr. Sharif 's statement, quoting, "He, Mr. Enright , then first became silent for a few minutes then suddenly started cursing and screaming. He yelled "Assalamu Alaikum. Consider this a checkpoint," and then slashed Mr. Sharif across the neck. As Mr. Sharif went to knock the knife out, the perpetrator continuing to scream loudly cut the taxi driver in the face, from nose to upper lip, arm and hand." Assalamu Alaikum , a common Islamic greeting meaning "Peace be with you." Mr. Sharif called 911, stopped the cab and reportedly locked Mr. Enright inside until police arrive. Both men were initially taken to Bellevue Hospital in New York . Police say Mr. Enright was highly intoxicated, friends of his telling " Talking Points Memo " he has a drinking problem. Enright was later charged with the aforementioned hate crimes . Mr. Sharif is now recovering and in stable condition. Another portion of his statement, "I feel very sad. I have been here more than 25 years. I have been driving a taxi more than 15 years. All my four kids were born here. I never feel this hopeless and insecure before. Right now, the public sentiment is very serious, because of the Ground Zero mosque debate. All drivers should be more careful." The New York City Taxi Workers Alliance , along with Mr. Sharif , will hold a news conference tomorrow morning to call for an end of the bigotry and anti-Islamic rhetoric in the debate around the Park 51 Islamic cultural center , it says. Now, to Mr. Enright , and potentially bizarre amplification of his alleged crimes with a caveat that the information is still unfolding from various sources, much of this stems from a Facebook page. Mr. Enright was reportedly a volunteer worker for Intersections International , a multi- faith, multicultural organization which has publicly supported what is now known as the Park 51 cultural center . The executive director of the Intersections International is saying, quote, 'If this is the same Michael Enright who has worked with Intersections , this is totally out of his character." Mr. Enright has also reportedly made a film about the experience of a high school friend, a Marine serving in Afghanistan . Mr. Enright said he had been there recently for that purpose and there was indeed a film for which he was heavily attempting to get publicity. And now to this -- what might have been, what still could be one of the anecdotes to the kind of hate engendered by the hysterical opponents of Park 51. More on Mr. Enright in the moment. But, first, the rally today by family members of 9/11 victims in support of that Islamic center . More on that in a moment. And last night, once again calling out the lie of any so-called compromise on this issue, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaking at an Iftar dinner.

    MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK : There are people of every faith -- including perhaps some in this room -- who are hoping that a compromise will end the debate. But it won't. The question will then become: how big should the no- Mosque zone be around the World Trade Center site ? There's already a mosque four blocks away. Should it be moved? This is a test of our commitment to American values . And we have to have the courage of our convictions.

    OLBERMANN: Back to the subject of Michael Enright . Enright was trying to get publicity for that documentary. He had reached out to at least one reporter, wound up talking to her five times, trading e-mails with her. Katy Tur of our NBC station here in New York , WNBC , who joins us now from Queens . Katy , describe what impression you had of his demeanor, stability, temperament -- who was this guy?

    KATY TUR, WNBC REPORTER: You know, I got to tell you, the first time I spoke to this guy, I was struck by how incredibly polite he was. He was "yes, ma'am," "no, ma'am," very polite on the phone. Just wanted to get a point across of how he feels that soldiers really aren't getting enough attention back in the United States . And, basically, he was trying to get me to do a story on him on his documentary. He basically followed a family childhood friend as he enlisted, trained and then was sent off to Afghanistan . He was there for about six weeks. And when he came back he started editing the film. And the inter -- what's it called --

    OLBERMANN: Intersections International.

    TUR: Intersections International -- thank you -- contacted me and they said, we have this kid, Mike Enright . He's very talented and I think you'd be interested in the story. And so, that's basically how I got in contact with him.

    OLBERMANN: Did you get impressions from this? He'd been in Afghanistan , at least he said he was, and the film would be evidence of that. Did you get any impression after he e-mailed you about a story that you had done on this Park 51 controversy? Did you get any sense that he was opposed to Muslims or Afghans or the project or anything about it?

    TUR: Well, the story has been the biggest story in New York for some time now. And I 've done it a number of times. And after one I did just a few days ago, I got an e-mail from Mr. Enright that said, "Hey, I really appreciate your story on the mosque, I think you did a good job, I hope to hear from you soon." And I never got an impression that he was anti-Muslim in any way. I did feel like -- I heard from a friend of his that he had a very intense experience in Afghanistan , but not that he had a negative impressions of Muslims . You can see pictures that he posted up on Flickr with little Afghani children. So, the idea he's anti-Muslim came as real shock to those who knew him. Certainly it's a surprise to me who -- because he seemed extraordinarily stable, at least on the phone, from the times that I spoke to him.

    OLBERMANN: So, when the executive director of the group says, if this is the Michael Enright who has worked with Intersections , this is totally out of his character. Based on your limited interaction with him, do you agree with that statement?

    TUR: I would love to say that it's totally based -- not in his character. But I -- from the limited interaction that I have had with him, I really couldn't tell you that. He was very polite on the phone. He was very nice. He just wanted to get his point across that the Afghanistan war is not being paid enough attention in the media and in the United States . He really wanted to create more of a dialogue between civilians and veterans. He was working with families of fallen victims. I got the impression he really wanted to get out the words of soldiers, not necessarily that he had anything against Muslims or their faith. So, this came as a surprise certainly to me, but certainly more so to those who knew them.

    OLBERMANN: My dear friend Katy Tur of WNBC in New York -- good work, great thanks.

    TUR: Thank you, Keith .

    OLBERMANN: Let's bring in the president of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations , Zead Ramadan . Thanks for your time tonight, sir.

    ZEAD RAMADAN, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: My pleasure, Keith .

    OLBERMANN: Obviously, it will be charged as a hate crime . Are there other explanations for this? If the man had a drinking problem, if he'd just back from Afghanistan and was trying to promote coverage of the wars and veterans and ally veterans with civilians -- could there be another explanation for this?

    RAMADAN: You know, this is very puzzling. Whether consciously or subconsciously, this gentleman started slashing away at someone after he asked him if he was a Muslim. So, that was a direct -- that was a direct connect.

    My theory is -- and my question is really: what made him tick? Is all this horrible rhetoric that's out there these days really causing people to turn from, you know, freedom of expression, to violence?

    OLBERMANN: Is -- what do you -- how do you -- how do you approach this from your point of view and from the important issue that is at hand here, which is this late surge of Islamophobia ? If, in fact, this is not somebody who is otherwise Islamophobic , but perhaps was -- just -- who knows, posttraumatic stress disorder, I don't want to try to diagnose him here.

    RAMADAN: Right.

    OLBERMANN: We'll be doing that for the next few days. But, obviously, this is a very nuanced story. It's more than just some guy -- the stuff we've seen at mosques around the country and the naked stupid hatred of the fellow in Kentucky who said a Baptist church next door to his flower shop would be fine because the Baptists would respect parking zones and Muslims would not. It's not that kind of story.

    RAMADAN: No, these are pathetic excuses for the hatred and the fearmongering that's been, you know, spewed over the area, you got to stop the Islamization of America with Robert Spencer , who's basically our modern day Jim Jones . And he's poisoning people over the Internet . And, unfortunately, these people who think they're on his side, he's throwing him under the bus. And they're making these ridiculous comments and they're going out there and they're attacking Muslims . In Brooklyn , just a couple of months ago, there was a Bangladeshi man on a construction -- he was a construction worker on a break from lunch and he was approached by three teens. And they asked him, are you a Muslim? And he said, yes, and they said go back to your bleeping country . Then they attacked him. And the man was in a coma.

    OLBERMANN: Right.

    RAMADAN: He's currently out of a job, can't support his children. But this is the kind of rhetoric. And now, these are teens. They could not be prosecuted as adults. I'm telling you, teens, how are these teens being affected by the rhetoric and hate and fearmongering that they're listening to on the net, over the air?

    OLBERMANN: But it would be irony if this man became representative of all the bad that's going where he was perhaps not guilty of it in that same way.

    RAMADAN: Unfortunately.

    OLBERMANN: Let me ask you something positive about this.

    RAMADAN: Sure.

    OLBERMANN: The mayor of the city of New York forcefully asserted himself last night into this event. And restated his opinion that compromise is by itself a defeat of religious freedom and what this country is about.

    RAMADAN: Right.

    OLBERMANN: Don't we need -- I think Mayor Bloomberg has shined in this occasion in a way perhaps he never has before -- but don't we need, desperately need other leaders of all faiths and political stripes to step up in the same way?

    RAMADAN: You know, Keith , I was there last night and it was a very moving speech. Once again, you know, Mayor Bloomberg 's a student of history and he knows he wants to stand on the right side of history once it's told years from now. He does not want to stand on the side of McCarthy . He wants to stand on the side of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and George Washington -- the people who worked for decades to create and ratify a Constitution to protect all Americans , all Americans , negligent of their religion, race or creed. And I think he's doing an honorable job. I just wish -- and I heard you talk about it and I completely agree with you. I think some Democrats have to step up and some people just have to step up and say, listen, I'm going to be on the right side of history here. I don't want to be person who's remembered as a persecutor of my own -- of my own people, my fellow Americans .

    OLBERMANN: Zead Ramadan , New York chapter of Council on American- Islamic Relations -- good luck with

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