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Suspect faces hate crime charges in stabbing of Asian man in New York City

The victim, 36, was taken to a hospital in critical condition after being attacked from behind in Chinatown, police said.

Police initially said that the stabbing of an Asian man in New York City's Chinatown on Thursday evening was not being investigated as a hate crime, but later changed course.

The incident occurred around 6:20 p.m. as the 36-year-old man walked on the sidewalk at the intersection of Worth and Baxter streets, the New York City Police Department said. Someone approached him from behind and stabbed him in the torso with an unknown object before running away from the scene, according to the department.

The victim was taken to Bellevue Hospital in critical condition, and later a 23-year-old man was arrested in connection with the stabbing, a police spokesman said. The suspect, Salman Muflihi of Brooklyn, was initially charged with attempted criminally negligent homicide, assault, forgery and criminal possession of a weapon, according to officials.

A police spokesperson said Friday afternoon that the attempted homicide charge was replaced with second-degree attempted murder as a hate crime and assault as a hate crime. The forgery and criminal possession charges remain.

Earlier, it was reported that the police department's hate crimes unit was notified about the attack but their investigation ended when Muflihi turned himself in and said that the stabbing was not motivated by race or ethnicity, according to NBC New York.

The station reported that the suspect and the victim did not know each other.

Muflihi is expected to appear in Manhattan Criminal Court, the station reported. The unidentified victim's status was not unknown Friday.

The incident came two days after Mayor Bill de Blasio and the commander of the police department's Asian Hate Crime Task Force spoke about crimes targeting Asians in the city and elsewhere.

Since the pandemic, there have been 28 incidents of Covid-related hate crimes against Asians, and all but one involved Asian victims, said NYPD Deputy Inspector Stewart Loo, who heads the Asian Hate Crime Task Force.

There have been two this year, he said. The year before the pandemic, there were three anti-Asian hate crimes.

Generally, for a violent act to be considered a Covid-related hate crime, there has to be something said or a statement by the assailant, Loo said.

Loo and de Blasio said hate crimes are often underreported, and they encouraged victims to report them. The NYPD Asian Hate Crime Task Force was formed last year.

UPDATE (March 3, 3:30 p.m ET): Since this story was published, online court records show that Muflihi has not been charged with a hate crime. The Manhattan District Attorney's office said in a statement Wednesday, "Mr. Muflihi has been charged with attempted murder and faces up to 25 years in prison. As has been reported, there is no evidence to date that Mr. Muflihi ever saw the victim's face or that he made race-related statements — in this case or in his previous cases of alleged violence."

"The defendant's statement that he 'didn't like the way [the victim] looked at him' does not establish a hate crime when the evidence to date shows that he ran up to the victim from behind and may have never actually seen his face. As we do in every case, we are continuing to investigate and may bring additional charges if warranted. Our office aggressively charges hate crimes when we obtain evidence which proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally selected the victim based on race or other characteristics, as required under New York law."