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.
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.
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.