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Muslim Congressman Breaks Down At Radicalization Hearing

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) -- On Capitol Hill Thursday, Long Island Congressman Peter King began his inquiry into radicalization in the Islamic-American community.

Congressman Peter King
Congressman Peter King heading the hearing on Islamic radicalization in America (credit: CBS 2)

Rep. King's hearings took an emotional turn when Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, tried to speak of the heroism and patriotism of Mohamad Salman Hamdani, a New York City EMT who died on 9/11 trying to save other Americans.

"After the tragedy, some people tried to smear his character solely because of his Islamic faith, but it was only when his remains were identified that these lies were exposed. Mohammad Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethic group or just a member of a religion but as an American who gave everything for fellow Americans," he said.

WCBS 880's Michael Wallace with Rep. Peter King


Rep. Ellison argued he thought the hearings were wrong because they could end up scapegoating people because of their faith, but King defended the hearings, noting that al Qaeda has adopted homegrown terrorism as their strategy.

After a week of protests leading up to the hearing, King dismissed what he called unwarranted "rage and hysteria'' and said Congress has a duty to press forward.

"We must be fully aware that homegrown radicalization is part of al Qaeda's strategy to continue attacking the United States. Al Qaeda is actively targeting the American-Muslim community for recruitment," King said.

"The president's own national security adviser said al Qaeda is attempting to radicalize the Muslim-American community," King said.

King marshaled a number of witnesses to help make his point, including Melvin Bledsoe, the father of Carlos Bledsoe who became a radical Muslim and was charged with killing an Army private at a Little Rock recruiting station.

Bledsoe said the efforts to radicalize American youth must be stopped.

"I would like to see something changed that no other family in this great country of ours has to go through what our family is facing today. God help us. God help us," he said.

But Congressman Bill Pascrell, who represents a large Muslim community in Paterson, N.J., took King to task, reports CBS 2's Marcia Kramer.

"Every time I've sat down with the FBI about my own district I was told many times that there is no hidden agenda in that you need not fear the recruiting," Pascrell said.

 WCBS 880's Peter Haskell with Long Islander Talat Hamdani, who thinks the hearings are misguided


"The proposed hearing essentially casts doubt on an entire community," said Naeem Baig of the Islamic Circle of North America.

Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee said the hearing could be used by terrorists to inspire a new generation of suicide bombers, and that Congress had a responsibility to make sure its words do not make problems worse.

"I cannot help but wonder how propaganda about this hearing's focus on the American Muslim Community will be used by those who seek to inspire a new generation of suicide bombers,'' Thompson said.

Several Democrats had written to King urging him to cancel the hearings or at least broaden the discussion beyond the Muslim community, but fellow Republicans were coming to his defense.

"This hearing is focused on an issue that we've got to be aware of. It is facing us and provides a threat to our people," said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA).

Attorney General Eric Holder warned against alienating a group he said was already helping fight homegrown terror.

"Tips that we have received, information that has been shared has been critical to our efforts to disrupting plots that otherwise might have occurred," he said.

King insisted that Muslims shouldn't feel threatened by the hearings and that if there was going to be any animosity, his opponents would be to blame. After the hearing, King said that he was planning others. The next one, he said, will deal with the radicalization of American Muslims in prisons.

On Thursday, at King's request, the Capitol Police secured the congressional hearing room and surrounding areas, as well as his office.
Rarely does a congressional hearing attract as much advance controversy. Critics have likened them to the McCarthy-era hearings investigating communism.

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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