Student award honors lost Sept. 11 hero

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The mother of a 9/11 Muslim hero from Bayside who was initially branded a terrorist gave out an award Tuesday to a Queens College student who shared the dreams of her son.

Anam Ahmen, 21, who is set to graduate this summer with a degree in biochemistry, accepted the award and met Talat Hamdani for the first time.

“This is a very important moment,” said Hamdani, whose son, Mohammed Salman Hamdani, died assisting victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “[Salman] wanted to be a medical doctor, but 9/11 happened.”

Ahmen shares many characteristics with Hamdani’s son.

Both of them emigrated from Pakistan before they were 5 years old, grew up in Brooklyn and later lived in Queens and studied science at Queens College with the hope of being doctors.

A professor at Queens College had both Hamdani and Ahmen as students.

“They both had the same dream to go to medical school,” said Wilma Saffran, a professor of biochemistry at the college. “He was very social and outgoing, and she was more reserved.”

But Saffran said they both were good students who got along with their peers, although only one of them will be going on to graduate school.

“I want to have him as an example and be continuously inspired by him when I’m a doctor,” Ahmed said.

Ahmen is studying biochemistry related to cancer research and might go into pediatrics after attending SUNY Downstate College of Medicine this fall.

And eventually she wants to selflessly help others the way Hamdani did.

Hamdani disappeared after the Sept. 11 attacks and was suspected of colluding with the terrorist attackers. His mother first thought he died helping others in the attacks, since he was a city-certified EMT and probably saw the smoking towers from the No. 7 train.

Then she hoped he had been detained by the federal government for questioning.

But five months after his remains were found, the family was notified.

Rumors circulated; there was even a flier.

But anyone who knew Hamdani was appalled by the accusations he helped plan the attack.

“I knew it was complete nonsense,” said William Hersh, Hamdani’s biochemistry research mentor. “I immediately called the [Federal Bureau of Investigation]. They never called back.”

Hersh takes time every year to tell his students about Hamdani’s sacrifice.

“I think it’s important for Queens College students to know that one of their own did this really brave thing,” he said.

Hamdani was eventually exonerated and honored.

“They tried to take away his dignity in death and they couldn’t do it,” his mother said. “The truth prevailed.”

And Hamdani’s name has been popping up recently.

During a controversial hearing on homegrown terrorism by U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Massapequa Park), another congressman told the story of Hamdani and how his bravery was not immediately acknowledged because of his faith.

Talat Hamdani met President Barack Obama during his recent visit to Ground Zero and has been pushing for her son to be officially recognized as a first responder.

And now Hamdani’s name will live on in the scholarship that rewards not only the future that Hamdani hoped to have, but also his past.

When he was applying to graduate schools, Hamdani could not find a scholarship for Pakistani people, his mother said at the ceremony, which is why it is also designed to help the community that Hamdani was a part of.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 10:52 am, October 12, 2011
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