The attorney for Michael Enright, the New York City college student charged with attempted murder as a hate crime for allegedly stabbing a Muslim cab driver Tuesday, denied that his client had acted out of hatred for Muslims.
"I don't believe that he has any underlying hatred or animosity towards Islam or Muslims in general," said attorney Jason Martin. Enright, a 21-year-old filmmaker and School of Visual Arts senior from upstate New York, has had past run-ins with the law involving alcohol and New York City police described the Tuesday attack as an isolated incident caused by drinking.
Police told ABC News that Enright, who had returned from a filmmaking trip to Afghanistan in May, was carrying two notebooks when arrested that contained allegedly "biased sentiments" recorded while he was in Afghanistan. Without providing details, police sources said the comments described encounters with Afghans he viewed as ungrateful for the American military presence in their country. The Associated Press reports, however, that police say the notebooks do not appear to contain anti-Muslim rants.
New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg met with victim Ahmed Sharif and his family at New York's City Hall 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 c said it was "very sad" he and Sharif had met under these circumstances.
Asked if he thought the attack was related to controversy over plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero, Bloomberg said he didn't know. "I wasn't in the cab," said Bloomberg, "I don't know what was going through anybody's mind. Whether it was related to anything or not it was disgraceful."
The Tuesday attack allegedly began when victim Ahmed Sharif answered "yes" to Enright's question, "Are you a Muslim?", and observers have wondered whether it was spurred by heated rhetoric over plans to build a mosque near the site of the 9/11 World Trade Center terror attack in lower Manhattan.
Bloomberg, who has backed the Islamic center's construction, said Wednesday he had "assured [Sharif] that ethnic or religious bias has no place in our city."
"This attack runs counter to everything that New Yorkers believe, no matter what God we may pray to," said Bloomberg.
Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, says the Ground Zero debate has inflamed anti-Islamic passions. "The level of anti-Muslim sentiment is at an all time high," said al-Marayati.
"This is what the terrorists want," said New York Gov. David Paterson Thursday. "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."
Sharif, who said he has been living in the US for 25 years and driving a cab for 15 years, on Wednesday seemed to blame the attack on the war of words over the Islamic center.
"Right now, the public sentiment is very serious," said Sharif, 43. "All drivers should be more careful." Javaid Tariq, cofounder of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents drivers, said the group believes the incident occurred because rhetoric about the proposed Islamic center has become "too hot," and asked politicians to cool it down.