Fighting for the last victims of September 11

By Ray Hanania

Everyone is familiar with the nearly 3,000 people who were murdered when al-Qaeda operatives hijacked four airplanes and crashed them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a field outside of Philadelphia.

Very few people are aware that eight or more Americans were killed in the days and weeks after the terrorist attacks, as a result of Sept. 11th linked hate backlash.

While the families of the Sept. 11 victims qualify for funding and public support, the families of victims killed because they were either Arab, Muslim or because they simply "looked Middle Eastern" have gotten scant attention. Scant attention, that is, from everyone but a petite Jewish woman who lives in a suburb of Chicago who believes the post-Sept. 11 backlash victims deserve the same compassion as the nearly 3,000 who died on Sept. 11.

"Three of these murders are incontrovertibly linked to Sept. 11," says Anya Cordell, who launched the Campaign for Collateral Compassion in February 2002 to bring attention to these subsequent Sept. 11 killings.

"There is no question at all that these three victims were the result of hate backlash linked to Sept. 11. At least five other murders are highly probably linked to the 9/11 hate-backlash."

Cordell, who has followed reports of Sept. 11 related hate backlash incidents closely, says the majority of the cases she has focused on took place in the three months after the terrorist attacks in New York. Yet none of the murder victims have been officially categorized as Sept. 11 related killings, and none of the families or relatives of these murder victims have qualified for any of the more than $2.9 billion raised to help Sept. 11 victims.

"I focused on the murders, because I knew that if I couldn't get attention for those victims, then I certainly would not be able to do anything for the victims of assaults and vandalism," Cordell said.

"They deserve to have their experience validated and have the public recognize what happened to them."

In most cases, reports of the Sept. 11 hate backlash were restricted to local news stories and local police investigations.

Cordell said she doesn't understand why none have been relieved by any of the primary Sept. 11 funds created to raise money for Sept. 11 victims' families.

"The victims should be treated exactly the same as if they had died in the World Trade Center," said Cordell.

That sentiment was echoed by New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt who has championed the cause of one of the victims' family member who faced deportation because the murdered victim was his family's sponsor for citizenship at the time of the killing.

Most of the other victims were already citizens. Several of the murders occurred in California and Texas, but crisscrossed the nation from New York to Michigan to Oklahoma to Tennessee. There was no conspiracy linking the killings other than the killers were driven by Sept. 11 related anger and hate. Although some of the killers were arrested and later convicted, still many others remain at large and uncharged.

Some of the victims

Cordell has compiled a list of potential Sept. 11 hate backlash victims from newspaper and police reports, and from firsthand interviews and meetings she conducted with surviving family members.

Three cases are crystal clear, Cordell says.

Balbir Singh Sodhi was gunned down on Sept. 15, 2001 in Mesa, Arizona. The turban-wearing Sikh was killed outside his gas station. Sodhi's killer spent the hours before the murder in a bar, bragging of his intention to "kill the ragheads responsible for September 11." He has been convicted and sits on death row.

Waqar Hasan of Dallas, Texas was also murdered on Sept. 15, 2001. The 46-year-old Pakistani, was shot to death in a convenience store he owned. Hasan was murdered by Mark Stroman, who was convicted of also murdering Vasudev Patel days later in nearby Mesquite, Texas.

Cordell noted that Stroman admitted to authorities to blinding a third victim, a Bangladeshi, in between the murders of Hasan and Patel. After his arrest Stroman bragged, "I did what every American wanted to do after Sept. 11th but didn't have the nerve."

Cordell says the Sodhi, Hasan and Patel cases are indisputable examples of having links to Sept. 11 related hate backlash. Yet, none of the three families have received any compensation from any of the September 11th funds.

"There are certainly others that likely fall into this category," Cordell said.

Other probable Sept. 11 linked hate backlash victims include:

Adel Karas, 48, a grocer from Egypt and a Coptic Christian, who was killed Sept. 15, 2001 in his San Gabriel, California store.

Another victim was Ali Almansoop, an American citizen and father of four. He was murdered six days later on Sept. 21, 2001 at his Detroit, Michigan home. Almansoop was a Yemen native. Prosecutors charged a Garden City man with first-degree murder in his shooting death. Allegedly, Almansoop was dating the ex-girlfriend of his killer, although the killer reportedly claimed he was glad he shot him because of Sept. 11.

Jawed Wassel of Queens, New York was an Afghani American (according to a friend of the family). Wassel had just finished producing a film about Iraq when he got into a dispute with one of his film's investors. The investor was later charged with decapitating Wassel and chopping up his body in the days after Sept. 11.

"It was as if Sept. 11 gave the investor permission to vent his rage against this guy. He had some conflict. Maybe he would have assaulted him. But would he have decapitated him and chopped his body into pieces, if not for the climate after 9/11?" Cordell asked.

The day before Abdo Ali Ahmed, 51, was murdered, he found a note on his car threatening to kill him and deriding his ethnicity. Ahmed, a Yemeni shopkeeper in Reedly, California, showed the note to friends and family but threw it away after concluding the threat was little more than typical post-Sept. 11 rage.

The next day, on Sept. 29, Ahmed was found murdered. Police have never charged a suspect in the case and they did not find the note he showed to his friends and family. Ahmed was a father of eight. The family lived in California for 35 years. The killing so frightened his surviving family members that they moved and till this day remain in hiding.

Abdullah Mohammed Nimer, 53, was a door-to-door salesman who lived and worked in Los Angeles, California. The motive in his Oct. 13, 2001 murder did not appear to be robbery. When his body was found, his car was unlocked and filled with valuable merchandise worth thousands of dollars. Police found several hundred dollars in cash with the victim that was also untouched.

Hate Crimes Escalate

Cordell said the killings fit into a 1700 percent increase in the number of overall assaults and vandalism cases reported by Human Rights Watch during the first year after Sept. 11.

"In the cases where the murderers are still at large, there were no witnesses. So they have been categorized as homicides. But in every single one of those cases, no money was taken. Cash registers were left open and filled with money. Wallets were untouched and other valuables remained at the scenes," Cordell said.

There were no post-Sept. 11th backlash murders in Illinois, but there were many acts of violence Irshad Khan owns a gas station in Naperville, Ill., with his uncle, Jafar Khan. They filed a defamation lawsuit saying it was the only way to save their business.

The Khans filed the lawsuit against several people who the Khans alleged spread rumors immediately after September 11th via the Internet that the Khan gas station had become a shrine, of sorts, to alleged Sept. 11th mastermind and al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden.

Bin Laden's face has been posted on American buildings across the United States and in Afghanistan where he is reportedly in hiding, but the Khans said that people spread rumors that they had put up a picture of Bin Laden to glorify him and praise his terror. There was no such picture, but rumors are powerful in America, especially those targeting Arab and Muslim Americans.

The Khans reported that their gasoline and grocery sales had fallen by about a third after the e-mail rumor circulated. "Some people are just looking for scapegoats, and they're just pointing fingers at other ethnicities," Khan was quoted as saying. "I was losing my whole business."

Across the country in Houston, 30-year-old Iraqi Hassan Al-Asfur was shot in the leg while sitting in his car on Sept. 21, 2001. Police said a man approached Al-Asfur's car, held a gun to his head and said, "Your people killed my people."

Further west in California, Swaran Kaur Bhullar, a Sikh, was stabbed in the head at a traffic light in early October 2001. The attackers fled when another car pulled up to the victim's car. Said Bhullar, "If that car hadn't driven up, I might have died."

But Arabs and Muslims were also among the nearly 3,000 people who died in the World Trade Center buildings when they collapsed.

They include: Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old laboratory technician from Bayside near Queens left home September 11th to work at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, at the Rockefeller Center, in Manhattan. He never returned.

He was trained in emergency medical assistance. Relatives believe he climbed aboard an ambulance headed for the World Trade Center after the first of the planes hit. He never even got to his office. Salman was a Muslim born in Karachi, Pakistan who came to America at the age of one.

Other World Trade Center victims include Samad Afridi, Omar Namoos, Asad Samir, Yusuf Saad, Talat Hussain, Azam Ahsan, Qasim Ali Khan, Naseema Simjee, Ashraf Ahmad Babu, Mohammad Chaudhury, Jumma Haque.

No funds for hate victims

None of the families of victims murdered as a result of alleged Sept. 11 linked hate backlash, including those identified by Cordell, have ever received support from any of the various charitable funds that were established to raise money to support the surviving families.

These organizations include the September 11th Fund, the Red Cross and the Families of Freedom Fund which provided scholarships to the children of victims. With other 9/11 charities, they raised more than $2.9billion, disbursed to surviving families and relatives, and to owners of businesses and homes damaged in the attacks.

The amount doesn't include the Government Victim Compensation Fund, which is also distributing $7 billion to survivors and family members. Ironically, Arab Americans donated $90,000 to the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund for 9/11 families, but received nothing when they were victimized.

Ironically just before his murder, Cordell said, Balbir Singh Sodhi emptied the contents of his wallet, $75, into a Red Cross 9/11 Fund relief jar--though when he became the victim, his family received nothing.

Cordell said she is most surprised by the failure of the September 11th Fund to donate money to the survivors of hate backlash victims, considering that more than 58 percent of their donors expressly indicated they wanted funds to be used for that purpose.

"The Fund specified the category of Sept. 11 backlash in their survey, and then conducted the survey twice, in October of 2001 and again in November 2001. Donor intent for relief to flow to the hate-backlash victims rose from 40 to 58 percent by November. This represents millions of donors and many millions of dollars," Cordell explained.

"The Fund highlighted on their web site the point that donors had expanded their view of who should be treated as a Sept. 11 victims. And then they utterly ignored that completely, violating the public trust with which they had been charged. I never received an explanation of why they did so."

Cordell said that she is also driven by the fear of another backlash if there is another terrorist attack in the United States. The country has been placed on a heightened state of alert and officials of the Bush administration have warned they expect an attack to occur.

"It's not just to relieve these people who are suffering because of their losses for the last three years but to also prevent this from happening again if there is another terrorist incident and more innocent Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Arabs, or others have to suffer the consequences," Cordell said.

The attacks and assaults have been ongoing since September 11, with new ones reported every week, though not on the radar of the national news media.

Cordell charged that comments made by civic leaders may have even contributed to the climate, such as the remark by North Carolina Congresswoman Sue Myrick, who, speaking about terrorism said, "Look who runs the convenience stores in every little town in this country."

On the first anniversary of Sept. 11th, Lynn Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, said "we don't want that pap about diversity."

Cordell said that she was particularly moved to feel compassion and to work for these victims because she is Jewish. "As a Jew, whose community has experienced such enormous intolerance, I believe that Jewish people should be front and center when our neighbors are experiencing any irrational tolerance," Cordell said.

Cordell has produced a 28 minute audio CD of her meetings with the victims, her very unique post 9/11 journey, and the personal story of how she came to be so driven by this mission.

Information on the CD, which is priced at $8 to cover the costs of production and distribution, can be found on her web site at www.CollateralCompassion.org.

(Ray Hanania is an award-winning nationally syndicated Palestinian American columnist, author and writer based in Chicago. His web page is www.hanania.com.)

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