- Associated Press - Thursday, August 26, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Enright once volunteered with a group that promotes interfaith tolerance and has supported a proposal for a mosque near ground zero — an experience distinctly at odds with what authorities say happened inside a city taxi.

The baby-faced college student was charged Wednesday with using a folding knife to slash the neck and face of the taxi’s Bangladeshi driver after the driver said he was Muslim. Mr. Enright was so drunk and incoherent when he was arrested that he was taken to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, police said.

He was later taken to court and remained jailed without bail Thursday on hate crime charges.

He was found with two composition-style notebooks on him that contained details of his experiences embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan but did not appear to contain any anti-Muslim rants, a law-enforcement official told the Associated Press. Mr. Enright was carrying the journals in a bag along with an empty bottle of scotch, the official told the AP on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

A taxi drivers’ labor group quickly used the attack to denounce “bigotry” over plans to build an Islamic center and mosque two blocks north of ground zero, while a leading Islamic group claimed a recent increase in anti-Muslim attacks since the controversy began.

This undated photograph provided by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance shows taxi driver Ahmed H. Sharif in a hospital in New York. A drunken passenger riding in a New York City taxi cab attacked the driver after asking him if he was Muslim, police said. Mr. Sharif was treated for cuts to the throat, upper lip, forearm and thumb. (AP Photo/New York Taxi Workers Alliance)
This undated photograph provided by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance shows ... more >

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch supporter of the mosque project, met privately with taxi driver Ahmed H. Sharif and his family at 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.

Mr. Bloomberg was asked after meeting with Mr. Sharif and his family whether the attack could be related to the opposition to the proposed mosque.

“You never know what’s related. I wasn’t in the cab,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

Mr. Sharif did not speak to reporters.

Mr. Enright uttered “Assalamu aleikum,” Arabic for “Peace be upon you,” and told the driver, “Consider this a checkpoint,” before attacking him Tuesday night inside the yellow cab in Manhattan, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

A judge ordered Mr. Enright, 21, held without bail on charges of attempted murder and assault as hate crimes and weapon possession. The handcuffed defendant, wearing a polo shirt and cargo shorts, did not enter a plea during the brief court appearance.

Besides a serious neck wound, Mr. Sharif, 43, suffered cuts to his forearms, his 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, had volunteered in Afghanistan and lives with his parents in suburban Brewster, N.Y.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based advocacy group, condemned the attack and said that anti-Islam sentiment has bubbled up with new fervor amid the debate about the downtown mosque, and that it’s leading to more bias incidents.

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