Paramedic and NYPD cadet Mohammed Salman Hamdani’s body was found Oct. 13 in 34 pieces, amongst the wreckage of the north tower of the World Trade Center. But alongside the search for his remains were media theories that Hamdani, who grew up in Queens, a borough of New York, had connections to the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks.
NEW YORK – Mohammed Salman Hamdani was taking the train to his job at Rockefeller University Sept. 11, 2001 when he saw smoke billowing from the towers of the World Trade Center.
Hamdani, 23, a certified paramedic and a cadet with the New York Police Department, reportedly jumped off the train at its next stop and headed over to the site of the terrorist attacks to help with rescue operations.
When he did not return home that evening, his mother Talat Hamdani began to panic. “I called everyone I could, the police department, the fire department, his friends – no one had heard from him that day,” she told India-West.
Hamdani’s body was found Oct. 13 in 34 pieces, amongst the wreckage of the north tower of the World Trade Center. But the Hamdani family did not receive this news until March 20, six months later.
Talat Hamdani said she did not know why it took so long for investigators to inform her of the death of her eldest son. But alongside the search for his remains were media theories that Hamdani, who grew up in Queens, a borough of New York, had connections to the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks.
“We did not have time to grieve. We immediately had to begin the process of resolving Sal’s reputation,” said Talat Ham dani, who has spent the decade since her son’s death trying to vindicate his name.
“Salman was a proud American, but it did not come as a surprise to me that my son was accused of being a terrorist. People wanted him to go down in history as a terrorist rather than an American hero.”
“There was a huge anti-Muslim sentiment after 9/11 and I have tried to accept this as a natural backlash of people who were responding without thinking,” she said.
Salman Hamdani, who played on his high school football team, graduated from Queens College three months before he died and was working as a research assistant at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Rockefeller University. He had also completed training with the NYPD Academy and worked part-time with Metro Ambulance as a paramedic.
The NYPD gave Hamdani a proper burial, and draped his coffin with the American flag. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the funeral, “Salman stood up when most people would have gone in the other direction. He went in and helped people.”
Salman was planning to go to medical school, said Talat Hamdani, noting that her son was an avid Star Wars fan whose license plate read “Yung Jedi.” He practiced many sports including roller blading and archery and coached at the local YMCA
Salman’s father, Saleem Hamdani, a journalist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, emigrated to the U.S. from Karachi in 1978. Talat came the following year with baby Salman, who was only 13 months old. His younger brothers, Adnaan, 29, and Zeeshan, 27, were born in New York.
Anti-Islamic rhetoric has increased ten-fold in the decade since 9/11, said Hamdani. “Muslims and terrorism have become synonymous terms,” she asserted to India-West, noting that as a teacher, she constantly faces questions from her students about her affiliations to the late Osama bin Laden.
But the Hamdanis were finally vindicated this March, ironically during Congressional hearings by Rep. Pete King, R-New York, about the alleged Islamic radicalization of America. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., wept openly as he praised Salam Hamdani’s heroism.
“Mr. Hamdani bravely sacrificed his life to try to help others on 9/11. After the tragedy, some people tried to smear his character solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers only because he was Muslim. It was only when his remains were identified that these lies were fully exposed,” said Ellison.
“Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be defined as a member of an ethnic group or a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow citizens,” said Ellison.