Friday, August 27, 2010

Passenger attacks Muslim cabby in New York

Aug 27, 2010

NEW YORK: New Yorkers, including the city's mayor, and several national organisations in the United States strongly condemned the attack of a taxi driver believed to have been targeted because he is a Muslim.

The attacker has been identified as 21-year-old film student Michael Enright, who had recently trailed US Marines in Afghanistan for a documentary.

Enright, who was reportedly drunk at the time of the incident, has been arrested and charged with second-degree attempted murder as a hate crime, first-degree assault as a hate crime and criminal possession of a weapon.

Bangladeshi taxi driver Ahmed Sharif, 43, said in a phone interview that Enright seemed polite at first. He asked him questions about where he came from, if he was a Muslim and if he was fasting in observance of Ramadan.

Then, Mr Sharif said, Enright began making fun of the rituals. After a short while, Enright began cursing him and shouted 'This is the checkpoint' and 'I have to bring you down'. He also said he had to bring the King of Saudi Arabia to the checkpoint.

'He was talking like he was a soldier,' said Mr Sharif. Enright then pulled out a knife, reached through an opening in the divider and slashed the taxi driver's throat.

Mr Sharif said that when he turned, Enright stabbed him in his face, on his arm and on his thumbs before bolting out of the slowly moving cab.

Mr Sharif then found a police officer, who apprehended Enright. According to the taxi driver, the officer said Enright claimed Mr Sharif had tried to rob him.

Mr Sharif received more than two dozen stitches at Bellevue Hospital Centre. Enright was given a psychiatric evaluation there.

He was arraigned on Wednesday in Manhattan Criminal Court and was held without bail. If convicted of the first charge of attempted murder as a hate crime, he faces up to 25 years in prison.

The incident came amid a heated and persistent national debate over the proposed building of a Muslim community centre and mosque - to be called the Park51 Islamic Cultural Centre - two blocks north of Ground Zero, site of the Sept 11 terror attacks.

Upon learning of the attack on the cab driver, some groups called for political and religious leaders to quiet tensions.

The New York City Coalition to Stop Islamophobia denounced the attack as 'particularly disturbing in the context of the toxic atmosphere of Islamophobia produced by opponents of the Park51 community project'.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he had spoken to Mr Sharif and 'assured him that ethnic or religious bias has no place in our city'. The mayor said Mr Sharif had accepted an invitation to meet him at City Hall.

'This attack runs counter to everything that New Yorkers believe, no matter what God we may pray to,' said Mr Bloomberg.

Enright had been arrested last November on charges of criminal trespass and disorderly conduct. He is a volunteer with Intersections International, an initiative of the Collegiate Church of New York which promotes justice and faith across religions and cultures.


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