Cabbie speaks out following attack

August 25, 2010 8:31:59 PM PDT
A Brewster man was charged with a hate crime for asking a taxi driver if he was a Muslim before stabbing him multiple times, police said.

"He started yelling 'this is a checkpoint, this is a checkpoint *expletive* I have to put you down'," Sharif said.

Ahmed Sharif was trying to figure out what the man in the back of his cab was screaming about, when suddenly the passenger started attacking him with a knife.

He was stabbed in the arm, slashed across the throat, and slashed again in the face.

"He moved like this, and he tried to get my throat, and I hold his hand," Sharif described.

But, there wasn't much he could do because his attacker was younger, stronger, and relentless.

"So much anger, and he hate me, he feel good if he can kill me. He said 'Oh my God, forget it, I'm dead'," Sharif said.

But he wasn't dead.

As Sharif fought off his attacker, the man gave up and escaped out the window of the taxi.

Bleeding and weak, Sharif called 911 and a nearby officer quickly arrested 21-year-old Michael Enright of Brewster in Putnam County.

He was charged with attempted murder in a bias attack.

Police said he appeared "extremely intoxicated."

"Most people is nice," Sharif said.

Sharif said he doesn't understand the rage and hatred of his attacker.

He said he moved to New York and raised his family in New York, because of the diversity it provides.

"This is the city for all colors and race and religion, we are all together. I do not know what his, why he get this way which force him to do this to me," Sharif said.

Michael Enright seemed to go out of his way to connect with the Muslim community through his volunteer work with a group committed to promoting tolerance.

Those who knew him are wondering what snapped, what could have prompted him to allegedly stab a cabbie because he is Muslim.

The 21-year-old produced a movie trailer for his senior project at the School of Visual Arts.

To complete the film, he traveled with a group of young soldiers to Afghanistan for six weeks this spring.

"The war experience is intense and Michael certainly experienced some intense things," said Robert Chase of Intersections International.

It's unclear what might have led this aspiring filmmaker to apparently try to murder his taxi driver after learning he was Muslim.

Neighbors near the home where Enright grew up in Brewster say there were no warning signs.

"He never showed any signs of having issues with other ethnicities, I just heard about all this and I am just completely in shock," said family friend, Lillian Peralta.

Enright's resume would seem to describe a young man with an open mind.

He volunteered and shot video for "Intersections International", a group committed to promoting peace and understanding.

"Mike was committed to our vision, this is unfathomable to me," Chase said.

Outside court Wednesday, Enright's father couldn't explain his son's alleged behavior.

"I just found out about this a few hours ago, leave me alone!" his father said.

Enright is being held without bail on hate crime and attempted murder charges.

His attorney has requested that his client be placed in protective custody.

"He's terrified, he's maybe been in one fight before and that was in high school," Enright's attorney said.

According to authorities, Enright hailed yellow cab at the intersection of Second Avenue and East 24th Street at 6:14 p.m. Tuesday.

Officials from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance said while traveling northbound, Enright asked the driver, 43-year-old Ahmed H. Sharif, how long he had been in America, if he was Muslim and if he was observing fast during Ramadan.

He then first became silent for a few minutes and then suddenly started cursing and screaming, officials said.

According to the statement, at Third Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets, Enright yelled, "Assalamu Alaikum. Consider this a checkpoint," and then slashed Sharif across the neck.

As Sharif went to knock the knife out, Enright, continuing to scream loudly, allegedly cut him in the face (from nose to upper lip), arm and hand.

Although Enright was intoxicated, investigators said he attacked only after Sharif confirmed he was Muslim. That led them to the bias crime determination.

No link to the "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy has yet been established, however. "We have no reason to believe this is anything but an isolated incident," said an NYPD spokesperson.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he talked on the phone with Sharif and planned to meet with him on Thursday at CityHall.

"This attack runs counter to everything that New Yorkers believe, no matter what God we may pray to," he said. "We will continue to do everything possible to crack down on any crime that targets someone because of who they are or what they believe."

Governor Paterson released a statement on the attack saying:

"In the wake of the alleged hate crime against a New York City taxi driver, I must take this opportunity to remind New Yorkers that we cannot and will not allow bias and ignorance to infect our communities and deny our hard working, innocent residents the respect they deserve.

"The potential for this kind of violence is one of the reasons why I have called publicly for a respectful and unifying conversation about the Park51 project. I continue to offer my assistance for an open dialogue that I believe will help to bring New Yorkers together.

"Additionally, I'd like to thank the New York Police Department and first responders for their quick response to the scene and speedy apprehension of the suspect."

Enright is charged with attempted murder as a hate crime, as well as assault, harassment and criminal possession of a weapon.

The attempted murder as a hate crime charge is an A-1 felony, and carries the same penalty as murder, under New York state law.

The judge, Hon Shanawndya Simpson, listened, as Assistant DA James Zaleta read the allegations against Enright during the arraignment.

"This was a highly vicious attack on an innocent person based on his religion," he said.

Referring to the knife wound on the victim's neck, Zaleta said, "The EMTs told us that if it was any longer or deeper he would have been dead on the scene."

Although no knife was recovered, a sheath to a Leatherman was found in the back seat of the cab, Zaleta said.

Enright's attorney, Jason Martin, asked for, and was granted, protective custody for his client.

"There's a healthy population of people of the Islamic faith in jail and they may prejudge the situation and, you know, something may happen to him and I want to prevent that," Martin told Eyewitness News reporter N.J. Burkett.

Enright was ordered held without bail, and will appear in court again on August 30th.