NEW YORK (AP) — A college student charged with a hate-fueled attack on a Muslim taxi driver was freed on bail Tuesday, staying silent about a stabbing that helped heighten concerns about tolerance in the weeks before the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
An impassive Michael Enright said nothing as he left court, arm-in-arm with his mother and surrounded by about a half-dozen supporters. His mother, Cathy, declined to comment.
Enright, 21, had been jailed since his Aug. 24 arrest. Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Richard Carruthers set his bail last week at $500,000; Enright’s family put up a suburban home and other assets to free him. He’s due back in court Dec. 8.
Enright asked cab driver Ahmed Sharif whether he was Muslim, uttered an Arabic greeting and told him to “consider this a checkpoint” before slashing him in the neck, authorities said. The Bangladeshi driver survived.
Enright initially told police that Sharif tried to rob him and he’d defended himself, prosecutors said. The film student later declared to police that he was “a patriot,” according to prosecutors.
Enright has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault, both charged as hate crimes. His lawyer, Lawrence Fisher, has said the film student was beset by alcoholism and by post-traumatic stress disorder from a trip to Afghanistan.
Enright went there last spring to shoot a documentary and was briefly embedded with troops. He was profoundly disturbed by his experiences, according to his lawyer. Enright was held for a time in a psychiatric ward, though prosecutors have questioned whether he has serious psychiatric problems.
When arrested, Enright was carrying notebooks describing his Afghanistan experiences — as well as an empty bottle of scotch, authorities said. He told police he had downed a pint of it.
While free on bail, he’ll have to get alcohol-abuse treatment and mental-health care, avoid bars or clubs that serve alcohol, wear an electronic monitor that tracks his whereabouts and comply with an 8 p.m. curfew at his home in Brewster, N.Y., about 60 miles north of Manhattan.
Enright’s arrest came at a fraught moment in relations between Muslims and others in the U.S. As the Sept. 11 anniversary neared, an emotional debate over a planned Islamic center and mosque two blocks from ground zero grew into a political flashpoint, figuring in campaigns and commentary around the country and spurring protests and counterprotests.
Opponents say a mosque doesn’t belong so near the site of a terror attack carried out by Islamic extremists. Supporters say the plan speaks to religious freedom.
In a nod to the contentious context surrounding the Sharif’s stabbing, Mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared with the driver and called for people to “understand that we can have a discourse.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)