The taxi driver who was slashed by a drunken passenger after being asked if he was Muslim came out of a meeting with Mayor Bloomberg today feeling encouraged.
"He offered his help and support to make sure I'm safe -- I feel a lot safer than before," Ahmed Sharif said on the steps of City Hall, flanked by a gaggle of supporters and a legion of media.
"Many thanks to everyone," he said. "After I was wounded, I was lying down in the hospital and from that time until now, the Taxi Alliance, with their help, and all my friends with their help -- it is unforgettable."
He added, "This still is very sad and shocked me, and sometimes I feel very lonely and unsafe [but] after I see the mayor and hear all his support and his words, I feel this city must be safe for everyone and we must have respect for all religions and each other."
Sharif, a Bangladeshi immigrant who has live in New York for 25 years, was attacked by passenger Michael Enright on Tuesday evening, police say, after Enright asked the driver if he was a Muslim. Enright allegedly slashed Sharif in the throat, mouth and arm while yelling, "This is a checkpoint motherf-----!"
Asked if he believed he was specifically attacked because he is Muslim, Sharif responded, "Of course it was for my religion! He attacked me after he asked if I was Muslim."
The shockingly brutal assault made international headlines as it seemed to be connected to the angry atmosphere that clouds the debate over a proposed Islamic center two blocks away from Ground Zero.
Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, spoke at City Hall with Sharif, and placed blame for the attack on the "Ground Zero mosque" controversy.
"Fear mongering lead to this crime," she said. "Fear mongering is at the heart of what happened to Ahmed Sharif."
She added later, "We feel really strongly that the debate has been really out of hand, that there's been so much fear mongering and so much ignorance and misinformation."
But the alleged attacker, Michael Enright, 21, of Brewster, N.Y., once volunteered with a group that promotes interfaith tolerance and has supported a proposal for a mosque near Ground Zero.
In May, Enright returned from a two-month stint in Afghanistan working on a documentary about American soldiers there.
A judge on Wednesday ordered the baby-faced School of Visual Arts student 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.
Police say Enright was drunk at the time of the attack. He has previous arrests for criminal trespass and disorderly conduct in 2009, and in 2008 he received two summonses for underage drinking.
A high-school friend of Enright's told NBCNewYork that "Michael always tended to get out of control when he drank and always needed someone someone to take care of him so he wouldn't get out of line. He just got loud and became a jerk -- wasn't one to fight anyone... never hurt anyone."
Commissioner Ray Kelly today noted that officers found a empty bottle of Scotch in Enright's backpack -- along with four notebooks and a journal all seeming to write about Afghanistan.
Enright's mother, Cathy Enright, told NBCNewYork that she spoke to her son and he's scared. "He is a great kid," she said. "This is not Michael. He is a wonderful person. I'm so saddened by all of this."
Mayor Bloomberg, when asked if he thought the mosque controversy had anything to do with the attack, responded, "You never know what's related -- whether it's related or not it's disgraceful."
Bloomberg said it is impossible to know the motive of the attack. But he made a pointed connection to the debate about the planned Islamic center, which has ignited intense emotions worldwide.
"This should never have happened and hopefully won't happen again," Bloomberg said. "Hopefully, people will understand that we can have a discourse. That's what the First Amendment is all about. That's what America is all about."