NEW YORK — A college student who did volunteer work in Afghanistan was charged Wednesday with using a folding tool to slash the neck and face of a New York City taxi driver after the driver said he is Muslim.
A criminal complaint alleged that Michael Enright uttered an Arabic greeting and told the victim, “Consider this a checkpoint,” before the brutal bias attack occurred Tuesday night inside the yellow cab on Manhattan’s East Side. Police say Enright was drunk at the time.
A judge ordered Enright, 21, held without bail on charges of attempted murder and assault as a hate crime and weapon possession. The handcuffed defendant, wearing a polo shirt and cargo shorts, did not enter a plea during the brief court appearance.
In addition to a serious neck wound, Ahmed H. Sharif suffered cuts to forearms, face and one hand while trying to fend off Enright, prosecutor James Zeleta said while arguing against bail.
Defense attorney Jason Martin told the judge his client was an honors student at the School of Visual Arts who lives with his parents in suburban Brewster, N.Y.
To deny bail, given his background, “I don’t think is warranted,” Martin argued. The lawyer declined to comment outside court.
Enright volunteered for Intersections International, a group that promotes interfaith dialogue and has supported a controversial proposed mosque near ground zero.
A group representative, the Rev. Robert Chase, called the situation “tragic.”
“We’ve been working very hard to build bridges between folks from different religions and cultures,” Chase said. “This is really shocking and sad for us.”
Sharif, a 43-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant who’s driven a cab for 15 years, 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. With the tension over the mosque, he added, “All drivers should be more careful.”
Sharif accepted an invitation from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch supporter of the mosque, to visit City Hall on Thursday.
“This attack runs counter to everything that New Yorkers believe no matter what god we pray to,” the mayor said in a statement.
About 6 p.m. Tuesday, Enright hailed the cab at East 24th Street and Second Avenue, said Deputy Inspector Kim Royster, a New York Police Department spokeswoman.
Sharif told authorities that during the trip, Enright asked him whether he was Muslim. When he said yes, Enright pulled out a weapon – believed to be a tool called a Leatherman – and attacked the driver, Royster said.
After the assault, the driver tried to lock Enright inside the cab and drive to a police station, police said. The suspect jumped out a rear window at East 40th Street and Third Avenue.
An officer there noticed the commotion, found Enright slumped on the sidewalk and arrested him.
A case for the tool was found inside the cab, but the tool itself was missing, police said.
Chase said Enright has been volunteering for the group for about a year on a project that involved veterans.
He did a video project that sent him to Afghanistan for about six weeks this spring to document the life of an average soldier, Chase said. He was embedded with a unit there.
Intersections has come out in support of the mosque project, but Chase said Enright wasn’t involved in that.
Enright faces a maximum eight to 25 years in prison if convicted of the attempted murder count.