Muslim New York cab driver stabbed by ‘baby-faced bigot’ as Ground Zero mosque tensions threaten to spill over
By Daniel Bates
Fears were growing that a backlash against New York Muslims had begun after a taxi driver was knifed because of his religion.
Film student Michael Enright, who had recently been embedded with US Marines, reached through the taxi’s partition and allegedly slashed Ahmed Sharif’s throat, face and arms.
Before he did, he asked if the New York cabbie was a Muslim.
After being told yes, he then, in a soldier-like voice, said: ‘This is the checkpoint. I have to bring you down’.
Enright, 21, has been charged with attempted murder as a hate crime, first-degree assault as a hate crime and criminal possession of a weapon.
But the alleged attack has reignited fears that the proposed Ground Zero mosque could open the floodgates to dozens of similar hate crimes.
The attack was last night linked to the issue.
Imam Shamsi Ali, director of the Jamaica Muslim Centre in Queens, New York said that the Ground Zero mosque ‘may well have been a factor behind the attack’.
He said: ‘For me the debate about the mosque at Ground Zero has been used as a justification for a whole movement that is against Islam and I hope that it will pass soon.
‘There is the possibility that this incident is the first of more to come and that it will lead to more attacks.
‘Some Muslims will fear for worse to come but I am confident that our work with law enforcement agencies and interfaith dialogue will ensure that does not happen’.
A new poll yesterday showed that nearly three in four Americans – 71% – say building an Islamic place of worship so close to the site is not appropriate, an increase of 8% from last month.
Anti-Muslim feeling has spread beyond New York with protests against mosques in California and Tennessee with Christian preachers in Gainesville, Florida recently going to court to insist on their right to burn copies of the Koran.
Enright had only returned home in May from five weeks embedded with Bravo Company of the First Battalion, Third Marines, in Helmand Province, where he was making a documentary about them.
In a curious twist, part of the trip had been paid for by Intersections International, a nonprofit group supporting ‘interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural cooperation, specifically with our Muslim brothers and sisters’, for which he is a volunteer.
After speaking to Mr Sharif in Arabic and asking if he was a Muslim, Enright supposedly asked how the driver’s Ramadan or Islamic fasting was going then without warning screamed: ‘This is a checkpoint, motherf*****! I have to put you down!’
He then allegedly reached through the partition with his Leatherman pocket knife and repeatedly slashed the driver, covering him in a ‘shower of blood’.
As Mr Sharif begged for his life Enright, who was said to be extremely drunk, fled the taxi and and was arrested soon after by a passing policeman.
An honours student who planned to graduate next year, Enright now faces up to 25 years in jail if convicted on the three counts. He is being held without bail whilst his alleged victim is still in hospital due to his injuries.
On Tuesday Enright appeared in court looking every inch the suburban American, wearing a polo shirt, chino trousers and his blond hair looking tussled and unkempt.
Mr Sharif, 43, a Bangladeshi immigrant, said anger over the proposed Ground Zero mosque may have led to him being set upon.
‘I know many people are upset. I didn’t support the mosque at Ground Zero, either,’ the married father-of-four said.
‘I feel very sad. I have been driving a taxi more than 15 years. All my four kids were born here. I never feel this hopeless and insecure before. Right now, the public sentiment is very serious.’
Tensions have been mounting for months over the proposed 13-story mosque at Ground Zero which it emerged yesterday could have capacity for up to 1,000 worshippers.
Families of those who died in 9/11 have reacted with horror and claimed it is disrespectful to those who were killed when terrorists flew planes into the Twin Towers in 2001.
Construction is due to begin on September 11 next year – the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack.
Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said: ‘As other American minorities have experienced, hate speech often leads to hate crimes.
‘Sadly, we’ve seen how the deliberate public vilification of Islam can lead some individuals to violence against innocent people.’