2 Accused of Hate Attack on Imam in NYC

By Staff | December 10, 2010 | 3:36 PM EST

New York (AP) - Prosecutors and advocates say a Muslim religious leader was beaten in a hate-fueled attack in a New York City subway station. But defense lawyers say the incident was a fight fueled by an accidental bump, not bias.

Eddie Crespo and Albert Melendez were charged Thursday with robbery and assault, both as hate crimes.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations says the victim is an imam but declined to identify him.

Manhattan prosecutors say Melendez used an anti-Muslim insult before punching the victim in the face and throwing his religious hat onto the subway tracks Wednesday. Prosecutors say Crespo aided the attack.

Defense lawyers say Melendez and the man started fighting after bumping into each other, and Crespo tried to break up the scuffle.