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Cabbie: 'Are You Muslim?' Leads To Night Of Horror

Updated 08/26/10 8:53 a.m.
NEW YORK (CBS 2/1010 WINS) -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg has invited a taxi driver, who was allegedly attacked by a baby-faced college student this week, to meet at City Hall on Thursday.

Ahmed Sharif picked up the clean-cut 21-year-old on Tuesday night -- and it nearly cost him his life. Police said Michael Enright flew into a rage after asking his driver if he was a Muslim.

CBS 2's Lou Young reports that's when a vicious slashing attack started.

Sharif, 43, displayed his wounds with sorrow on Wednesday night: a deep gash on his forearm, a defensive wound on his hand, and slashes to his neck and upper lip -- the handiwork, police said, of a passenger who savaged the immigrant cabbie in what appears to have been an explosion of anti-Muslim violence in the close confines of his New York City taxi.

Michael Enright, right. (Photo/Facebook)

"I'm driving. He asked me where I'm from. I said Bangladesh. Second question he ask me, are you Muslim? I said yes. Then he tells me 'assalamu alaikum,'" Sharif said.

The attack happened around 6:15 p.m. Tuesday in a busy commercial area on 40th Street and Third Avenue. The passenger, police said, was 21-year-old Michael Enright, an honor student from Putnam County who has spent time overseas in Afghanistan working as a reporter.  Sharif said the young man began ridiculing the Muslim holiday of Ramadan and then started a bizarre, belligerent rant.

"This is checkpoint [expletive]. I have to put you down. You have to bring Abdullah to this checkpoint, I have to bring him down, too," Sharif said.

He said Enright lunged through the cab partition with a knife, and the men struggled as the cab rolled for a block and a half.

"The knife came here and when he knife like this by his right hand then I back up like this, then it come here," Sharif said, showing the wound on his arm.

Enright was arrested at the scene and charged with attempted murder as a hate crime. His father had nothing to say as he rushed to his son's arraignment on Wednesday afternoon.

LISTEN: WCBS 880's Paul Murnane in Enright's home town of Brewster

"This attack runs counter to everything that New Yorkers believe no matter what god we pray to,'' Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement.

News of the attack has swept through the Muslim community like a shockwave. People were gathered outside Sharif's Queens home on Wednesday night denouncing the incident as un-American.

"America is about freedom of religion and freedom of speech. You cannot hate, just hate me because I am Muslim. I didn't do anything to you. What did I do?" a man named "Abdullah" said.

Inside, the victim, despite his injuries, continued to espouse his belief in the American dream.

"I work hard. I try to support my family and I believe in this country if you work hard and you're honest, you're good, you can have anything you want," Sharif said.

LISTEN: 1010 WINS' Carol D'Auria reports

Police said an intoxicated Enright slashed Sharif with a Leatherman knife. As the scuffle ensued, Sharif was able to keep Enright locked in the cab until he found a police officer to arrest him.

Sharif was quoted in a news release from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance as saying the attack left him shaken.
"I feel very sad," he said, adding "all drivers should be more careful."

Al Jones of 1010 WINS reports that Enright was arraigned Wednesday afternoon and was ordered to be held without bail.  He did not enter a plea during the brief court appearance. A grand jury will hear the case on Monday.

Defense attorney Jason Martin told the judge his client was an honors student at the School of Visual Arts, had volunteered in Afghanistan and lives with his parents.
To deny bail, given his background, "I don't think is warranted,'' Martin argued.

Enright also asked to be placed in protective custody due to the ground zero mosque debate, and his attorney said the native of Brewster, N.Y. is shocked by the charges against him.

"Right now he's terrified. He shocked at the allegations. Right now we're going to try to gather as much information as possible and to figure out where to go from here," Martin said.

Javaid Tariq of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance said he has little doubt what the incident was.

"It is a hate crime. It's is not any robbery or fare dispute or anything else. Talking to him, asking him if he's a Muslim? Telling him it's a checkpoint and stabbing him. Of course it's a hate crime," Tariq said.

Neighbors in Brewster were stunned to hear Enright was in trouble over an alleged hate crime.

"I find that hard to believe," one woman said. "He doesn't have a mean bone in his body.

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