Muslim cab driver, mayor meet after attack

August 26, 2010 3:23:24 PM PDT
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg met with the Muslim taxi driver at City Hall Thursday afternoon.New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg met with the Muslim taxi driver at City Hall Thursday afternoon. The cab driver, Ahmed Sharif, barely survived a knife attack by a passenger said to be in a rage over Islam on Tuesday evening.

Bloomberg said that it's important for Americans to have "a discourse" on controversial topics.

Bloomberg was asked Thursday whether the attack on Ahmed Sharif could be related to the opposition to the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque about two blocks from ground zero.

The mayor replied: "You never know what's related. I wasn't in the cab."

Bloomberg met with Sharif and his family for more than an hour Thursday, and gave the cab driver's four children gift bags with "I Love New York" and "I'm a New Yorker" t-shirts and New York City pencils. Bloomberg called the attack a "disgrace" and said it was "very sad" he and Sharif had met under these circumstances.

Earlier in the day, Governor Paterson spoke out about the attack, saying it's just what the terrorists wanted when they attacked on 9/11.

"An incident like this, where a taxi driver almost lost his life should certainly compel us to remembering," Paterson said on WOR-AM Thursday morning. "This is what the terrorists really want. This is the terrorists getting a yield on their investment when they attacked this country and blew up the World Trade Center, that we're now fighting each other. This is making their day."

However, the governor also says the driver's religion may not have prompted the attack, saying such incidents often involve underlying mental health problems.

"Of course it was for my religion - he attacked me after he knew I was a Muslim," Sharif,said at a news conference after meeting with Mayor Bloomberg.

On Wednesday, Sharif said that with all the tensions over the mosque near ground zero, other drivers should be very cautious.

INTERACTION: Is America becoming Islamaphobic?

In the spring, 21-year-old Michael Enright, of Brewster, spent six weeks filming Marines in Afghanistan for his senior thesis at the School of Visual Arts. People wonder if that had something to do with the alleged knife attack and the talk about a "checkpoint." Now, he's being called the "Boozed Up Bigot."

"He started yelling at 39th Street and Third Avenue," Sharif said. "'This is checkpoint. This is a checkpoint, mother [expletive], and I have to put you down.'"

Sharif says Enright started the ride with an Arabic greeting, but minutes later, he plunged a knife through the open security shield. The driver was stabbed on his arms, neck and face. If the wounds were any deeper, EMTs said, Sharif would have died at the scene.

"So much anger," Sharif said.

Sharif stopped his cab at 43rd Street and Third Avenue, locking Enright inside. The suspect climbed out the window, but was caught by police.

Enright, said to be extremely intoxicated, was held without bail. He is charged with attempted murder and assault as a hate crime.

At court, his father was shaken.

"I've only known about this for a couple hours," he said. "Leave me alone."

Enright's YouTube teaser video points to an odd twist. His work in Afghanistan was sponsored by Intersections International, a group that promotes interfaith dialogue and supports the mosque near ground zero.

"Mike was deeply driven to our vision of how the world would be," Rev. Robert Chase said. "So this is totally unfathomable to me."

Enright was taken to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. He faces 8 to 25 years in prison if convicted. Defense attorney Jason Martin told the judge his client was an honors student who lives with his parents in suburban Brewster. He is asking that Enright be kept in protective custody.

Martin denied that his client had acted out of hatred for Muslims. However, police told ABC News that Enright, who had returned from a filmmaking trip to Afghanistan in May, was in possession of a journal chronicling his trip at the time of his arrest, and that the journal contained allegedly "biased sentiments" recorded while he was in Afghanistan.