Fla. Boy Coming Home After Iraq Adventure

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Teenager survives secret solo trip to Iraq
by Jason Staziuso, The Wasington Post

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A 16-year-old from Florida who traveled to Iraq on his own without telling his parents was put on a flight home Friday, the U.S. Embassy said, while warning Americans of the dangers of undertaking similar journeys. Farris Hassan, of Fort Lauderdale, had been under the care of the U.S. Embassy after being on his own in Iraq for several days.

“I’m going to hug him. He’s my little angel,” his mother, Shatha Atiya, said Friday after learning he was on his way home. “I’m exhausted, I’m very anxious. I’m grateful he’s out of Iraq.”

Skipping a week of school, he left the country on Dec. 11, telling only two high school friends of his plans. His travels took him to Kuwait and Lebanon before he arrived in Iraq on Christmas Day. He left without telling his family and sent an e-mail after his departure, Atiya said.

“He is very idealistic. He has many convictions. He is very pro-democracy, very compassionate, always helping out others, he’s very driven,” Atiya said. “Those are more characteristics of Farris than adventurous. This is the first adventure he’s been on.”

Skipping a week of school, he left the country on Dec. 11, telling only two high school friends of his plans. His travels took him to Kuwait and Lebanon before he arrived in Iraq on Christmas Day. He left without telling his family and sent an e-mail after his departure, Atiya said…

     

“He is very idealistic. He has many convictions. He is very pro-democracy, very compassionate, always helping out others, he’s very driven,” Atiya said. “Those are more characteristics of Farris than adventurous. This is the first adventure he’s been on.”

The teen traveled to Kuwait, where a taxi dropped him in the desert at the Iraq border, but he could not cross there because of tightened security ahead of the Iraqi parliamentary elections on Dec. 15. He went to Beirut, Lebanon, to stay with family friends, and flew from there to Baghdad.

After his second night in Baghdad, he contacted the AP and said he had come to do research and humanitarian work. The AP called the U.S. Embassy, which sent U.S. soldiers to pick him up.

State Department officials then notified his parents.

Atiya said she has a 60-year-old brother in Iraq, but that she had refused when her son recently pestered her for his number. She said she offered to take her son to Iraq later, when tensions eased.

“I thought that would be sufficient for him, but he took it upon himself to do this adventure. He has a lot of confidence, but I never thought he would be able to pull this together,” she said.

Hassan does not speak Arabic and has no experience in war zones, but he wanted to find out what life was like there.

Atiya said her son is studious, works on the school newspaper and is on the debate team. He is a member of a Republican Party club at school who spends his time reading, rather than socializing, his mother said.

When school officials learned of Hassan’s trip, they threatened to expel him, but Atiya and Hassan’s father, Redha Hassan, a physician, persuaded officials to allow him to remain, Atiya said. It was not immediately clear why they wanted to expel him.

Julie Schiedegger, who teaches English at Pine Crest, said Friday that she learned Hassan was headed to Iraq about two weeks ago when she overheard some students talking about it.

“He is very bright, friendly, respectful, just a good kid,” she said.

Michael Buckwald, a 17-year-old classmate, said Hassan immerses himself in subjects that he likes and was opinionated in class.

“He always struck me as a very intellectual person. He’s very outspoken at the same time,” Buckwald said.

Hassan is the youngest of Atiya’s four children. The others are enrolled at universities.

Aside from the research he wanted to accomplish, he also wrote in an essay saying he wanted to volunteer in Iraq.

He said he wrote half the essay while in the United States, half in Kuwait, and e-mailed it to his teachers Dec. 15 while in the Kuwait City airport.

“There is a struggle in Iraq between good and evil, between those striving for freedom and liberty and those striving for death and destruction,” he wrote.

Hassan told AP he understood how dangerous his trip was. He’d said that his plans on his return to Florida were to “kiss the ground and hug everyone.”

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