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Jersey City 9/11 Reaction Essay

The World Trade Center was still burning when Mehmet Ibis hopped in his car and headed for Manhattan in search of his brother.

The daylong hunt for 26-year-old Zuhtu Ibis ended that night on the Hoboken waterfront where Mehmet, exhausted and unable to make it into Manhattan, passed out inside his car.

Sometime before dawn, Mehmet and three friends who had joined him in the search were jolted awake by the glare of a police flashlight.

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“Where’s the bomb?” a New Jersey Transit officer started yelling, according to Mehmet Ibis’ account.

The cop ordered the men out of the car and called for backup. Police, after finding a plastic BB gun inside Mehmet’s vehicle, put him in handcuffs and branded him a terrorist. It was only after a more senior officer intervened that he was uncuffed and allowed to resume the hunt for Zuhtu, a Cantor Fitzgerald bond trader.

“The whole thing was depressing, but I didn’t have time to sit around and be upset because I had more important things to do, like search for my brother,” Mehmet Ibis told the Daily News.

The search ended in tears.

Zuhtu Ibis, a married father who worked on the 103rd floor of the north tower, was one of 60 Muslims killed in the 9/11 attacks.

And that despair was only the beginning, as the destruction of the World Trade Center ushered in a period of fear and profound disquiet for American Muslims.

Remembering the fallen first responders of 9/11

The months and years that followed forced them to face relentless name-calling and finger-pointing, suspicions voiced aloud and whispered behind their backs, and even acts of irrational retribution.

“Everything’s different, even the way people look at you,” said Ibis, whose family hails from Turkey.

Ibis said he’s been twice labeled a terrorist by customers at his New Jersey gas station. His elderly parents, meanwhile, were once branded “f-----g terrorists” at a grocery store.

“I’ve been here since 1995,” he said. “It used to be a beautiful country, beautiful people. It’s not the way it used to be anymore since 9/11.”

Talat Hamdani, who lost her son, a 23-year-old police cadet, still struggles to talk about what her family endured after the attacks. The son, Mohammad Salman Hamdani, was on his way to his lab assistant job when he rushed toward the towers.

A few weeks later, detectives showed up at the family’s Queens home asking probing questions, the mom recalled. Newspaper stories appeared days later suggesting her son, a Pakistani native, could be a suspect in the attacks.

“I couldn’t believe that the NYPD was doubting the actions of Salman,” Talat Hamdani, 64, told The News.

Ultimately, Hamdani’s son was buried with full NYPD honors and hailed a hero by Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. But the raw feelings remain.

Hamdani has dealt with disparaging comments against Muslims. Her relatives and friends have been denied numerous jobs after showing up to interviews in religious garb.

“We’re super, super scrutinized,” said Hamdani, who now lives on Long Island and is still fighting to have her son’s name listed at the 9/11 memorial among the fallen NYPD officers.

“I could understand a backlash against Muslims at the moment. But over time it escalated and permeated into the very arteries and veins of this country.”

While it’s not clear how many of the crimes were in response to the 9/11 attacks, the FBI reported a spike in anti-Muslim attacks from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001. In the following years, the number has remained between 100 and 150, roughly five times the rate before 9/11. One of the earliest post-9/11 attacks took place on Long Island, when a Huntington Station driver who screamed he was “doing this for my country” tried to mow down a Pakistani woman.

“There was a lot of fear and there were some hate crimes,” recalled Adem Carroll, a human rights advocate who worked for Islamic Circle of North America at the time of the attacks.

“However, I think the situation now is perhaps even more troubling because we’re 15 years after the terror attack, and the level of animosity seems to be as great or greater than ever.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations and the University of California, Berkeley issued a report earlier this year that found attacks — verbal and physical — on mosques were on the rise. There were 78 in 2015, the most since CAIR started tracking such incidents in 2009.

Critics say rhetoric from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump continues to fuel anti-Muslim sentiment, leading to attacks.

Trump claimed in November there were thousands of people in New Jersey who celebrated the 9/11 attacks.

“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down,” he said at a Nov. 21 rally in Birmingham, Alabama. “And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”

The Associated Press reported on Sept. 17, 2001, “rumors of rooftop celebrations of the attack by Muslims” in Jersey City. The news service later called those reports “unfounded.”

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For nearly two weeks, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has stood by his claim that he saw video of “thousands and thousands” of Muslim residents in New Jersey cheering for the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11.

“Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Birmingham, Alabama on Nov. 19.

The next morning on ABC News, Trump defended the claim to “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos, saying, “It was on television. I saw it… It was well covered at the time, George.”

Trump has continued this week to defend his claim that he saw thousands celebrating, telling New Hampshire television news network NH1 on Tuesday, “If you look at for instance where I said the thousands of Muslims were cheering. It turned out to be true.”

But despite Trump’s claims, no media outlet or Trump’s campaign has uncovered any reports from the time confirming that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the Sept. 11 attacks.

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There have only been anecdotal reports and rumors of small groups of people celebrating the attacks in Paterson and Jersey City, New Jersey -- none of which were televised at the time and none of which have been confirmed.

Law enforcement and local officials in New Jersey have also dismissed Trump's claims of massive celebrations. Former New Jersey attorney general John Farmer told ABC News, “The reports of widespread celebrating were not true. Simply not true.” Donald DiFrancesco, the acting governor of New Jersey on Sept. 11, also told ABC News, “I guess, if two or three people did something somewhere, maybe it’s possible. But no, not thousands, no. I would have had to send people over there to handle security if that were happening.”

ABC News has reached out repeatedly for further comment from the Trump campaign since he spoke to “This Week.” His campaign has declined to comment.

Now an extensive search of ABC News transcript and video archives shows that no footage of celebrations in New Jersey aired on ABC News on Sept. 11 or on the following day’s special report coverage of the attacks.

Instead, there are repeated mentions on ABC News of celebrations on Sept. 11 among a group of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, 5,700 miles away from New Jersey. The Associated Press Television News video aired on ABC News shows dozens of Palestinians, many of them young boys, cheering the attacks in the streets while cars drive by honking and others hand out sweets in celebration. Mentions of celebrations in other Middle East countries, including Egypt and Lebanon, were also reported on air by ABC News at the time.

The only known on-air mention on ABC News related to celebrations of any kind in New Jersey came at 11:28 p.m. on Sept. 11, when former ABC News correspondent John Miller (now the NYPD deputy commissioner for counter-terrorism and intelligence) gave ABC News anchor Peter Jennings an update on reports of a van investigated for explosives.

Miller explained the van “was stopped after people reported seeing three men celebrating in Liberty Park, opposite the World Trade Center on the New Jersey side of the river, celebrating with joy after the explosion.” The three men reportedly seen celebrating were later stopped along with two others in the van, which was found by police not to carry any explosives.

Underscoring the rarity of on-air reports of any celebrations in the U.S. on Sept. 11, Jennings interjected, “I must say that anybody -- anybody seen celebrating this attack on American soil that they'd be lynched, it seems to me, almost immediately.”

Miller responded, “That, it would certainly seem, that was the reason people notified authorities, because the behavior’s at least bizarre if not suspicious.”

ABC News later extensively reported on the individuals stopped in the van, detailing an investigation into five young Israelis and their possible connection to Israeli intelligence. ABC News reported in June 2002 that the men were held in detention for more than two months before being deported to Israel.

The above video features reporting by ABC News of celebrations on September 11 and 12, 2001, following the 9/11 attacks.

ABC News’ Josh Margolin and John Santucci contributed reporting to this article.