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3 Sikhs beaten, harassed in Woodside bias attack

Three Sikhs were attacked and beaten by a group of white men who shouted "Bin Laden! Go back to your country!" in Woodside Sunday night before a pizza deliveryman stepped in and stopped the assault, police and witnesses said.

"I feel like, why has this happened to us?" said a 32-year old woman, one of the victims, who asked not to be identified as she stood in front of her home Tuesday. "We are Americans. We love America."

The woman was returning home with her cousin Lakhvir Singh Gill, 32, her husband, 40, who also requested that his name not be used, and the couple's two children. The group had returned from a trip to look for a new home on Long Island and had stopped in Jackson Heights for Indian food.

But when they pulled up in a car near the intersection of 59th Street and 47th Avenue and got out on their quiet street near the Big Six Towers development at about 10 p.m., four white men began to harass them.

The woman's husband, who wears the turban common among Sikhs, tried to explain to the men that he was from India and had nothing to do with Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden, believed to have ordered the terrorist attacks against U.S. targets on Sept. 11.

"But they don't listen," the woman recounted. She said the men, who were clearly intoxicated, grew angrier, cursing and spitting as they grabbed Gill, threw him to the ground and began to kick and punch him. The woman and her husband attempted to intervene but only ended up being hit and pushed as the melee intensified.

But Greg Hodge, a pizza deliveryman for the nearby Woodside Pizza, saw the fracas unfolding and grabbed one of the attackers off the pile of bodies. The men fled the scene and police arrived soon after.

Police were still searching for the attackers Wednesday.

"They're calling me a hero," Hodge said Tuesday outside the pizza shop just across Queens Boulevard from the site of the attack. "But I didn't do anything that anyone else should not have done."

The 41-year-old single father of two, who has lived in Woodside and the surrounding communities all his life, said the vicious attack would have been much worse if he had not interceded.

"If I hadn't stepped in, I think they would have left them for dead," he said.

Still, the woman who was attacked said the incident had not soured the family's opinion of the Woodside community, where they have lived for nine years.

But at a hastily organized meeting put together by New Immigrant Community Empowerment in Jackson Heights Tuesday night, community activists expressed anger and frustration. Inderjit Singh, until recently a city council candidate in Jamaica and Richmond Hill, said attacks like Sunday's had tested Sikhs' customary easy nature.

"We are willing to forgive and forget," he said, "but we are not willing to be abused."

In a statement, NICE called for a vocal response from city officials denouncing hate crimes and immediate passage by the City Council of enhanced confidentiality protections for immigrants.

Many of the 40 or so people who attended the NICE meeting directed their anger not at the white perpetrators of Sunday's attack but at the federal government's policies, which many said were anti-immigrant, especially following the Sept. 11 attacks.

"What sort of climate are we creating?" asked Udi Ofer, an attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union who said the attitude of the Bush administration made "idiots" like the unidentified assailants on Sunday night feel that their actions were legitimate.

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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