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Bayside Muslim draws praise at King’s hearing

One of the most emotional moments at U.S. Rep. Peter King’s hearing on radical Islam in the United States was about a Bayside resident who gave his life on Sept. 11, 2001, but fell under suspicion of helping with the attacks because of his religion.

Mohammad Salman Hamdani was an NYPD cadet and a paramedic who disappeared after 9/11. He was also a Muslim.

After the attacks, rumors surfaced that Hamdani had colluded with the terrorists, according to Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who had to compose himself several times as he recounted Hamdani’s story.

“Mr. Hamdani bravely sacrificed his life to try and help others on 9/11,” Ellison said. “After the tragedy, some people tried to smear his character solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors that speculated he was in league with the attackers because he was a Muslim.”

But Ellison went on to say that Hamdani was only vindicated when his remains were found at the site of the attack.

“His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion,” Ellison said.

Hamdani’s mother, Talat, was in the audience and said she had no idea Ellison would talk at such length about her son.

“I didn’t know that Ellison was going to go into such a big tribute,” she said in a telephone interview this week. “It’s very important. I’m thankful that he told my son’s story and it was an appropriate moment in history.”

Hamdani’s mother is part of a nonprofit called September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, and she said that she attended the hearing as a learning experience.

“Sitting there in the seat, it makes a big difference,” she said. “I’m educating myself how this country works after 9/11.”

Her son’s story has caused her to stand up for her religion, she said, especially since she feels it has been unfairly singled out by King.

“I will continue my mission to educate the nation and fight this stereotyping and prejudice and discrimination against Muslims,” she said. “What Peter King tried to do, which he failed miserably at, was to divide the nation. He put Islam on trial.”

But King, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, has repeatedly said the hearings are justified by terrorist groups that seek to persuade American Muslims to commit violent acts.

“I remain convinced that these hearings must go forward — and they will,” he said in his opening statement. “To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness.”

King quoted Dennis McDonough, deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to illustrate the threat of home-grown terrorism.

But King’s speech did little to comfort Hamdani.

“He disclosed his prejudice and bigotry,” she said. “Things did not go as he planned.”

Hamdani said she will still fight for her son’s legacy.

Ellison had referred to Salman as a first-responder, but he is not listed as such on the 9/11 memorial.

“I have been trying for the past two years,” she said. “But they do not want to acknowledge his sacrifice.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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