American teen beaten in Mideast talks about ordeal
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - A Palestinian-American teen left with stitches and bruises from his detention by Israeli security forces said Sunday he was beaten, kicked and blindfolded on a family trip to the Middle East after a cousin there was abducted and killed.
Fifteen-year-old Tariq Abu Khdeir flew home to Tampa last week and told The Associated Press from his home in Florida that he holds out hope that he can visit the region again and "come back safe."
"If I want to see my family members I hope I can," he said, adding "I don't want to have any problems with anybody."
Israeli authorities released Tariq three days after he was detained and sentenced him to nine days of house arrest while they investigated what they said was his participation in violent protests over the death of his cousin, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian living near Jerusalem.
Seated beside his mother in his Tampa home, the teen told AP that he did not take part in rock-throwing disturbances shortly before he was picked up by Israeli security forces. He said he just was watching and listening to a commotion surrounding the investigation of the disappearance of his cousin when Israeli forces began shooting rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd that had formed.
"I didn't do anything to them (Israeli authorities) to do this to me," he said.
The teen said in the first moments of being picked up that he was slammed down. And during the ofeal, he said he was kicked on several parts of his body and blindfolded.
At the time the family was on a trip that began in June and expected to last about six weeks.
Tariq said in the interview that he and Mohammed had struck up a quick friendship after his arrival. They visited sacred sites including the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. They had fun, joked and played games. He said they also helped others in their neighborhood - setting up lights in neighbor's homes before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"He took me to as many places as he could," Tariq said, seated on a couch in his home.
Mohammed was killed the fifth week of the visit, Tariq said, adding that the tenor of the trip immediately changed after the cousin was abducted and subsequently found dead.
"There was no next day," Tariq said.
Tariq said he had gone off to a bakery for about five minutes the day Mohammed disappeared, returning to find him gone.
The American teen spent the next few hours with relatives trying to find out from police what had happened to his cousin. After Mohammed was found dead, a crowd filled with family members formed and started screaming at the police, Tariq said.
"Everything was getting so tense," he recalled in the interview.
The neighborhood calmed before security forces came back and started shooting rubber bullets and tear gas, according to Tariq.
"When they were shooting at us, I went into an alley so I could get a better view and I just started sitting there thinking . I wanted to know why this is happening," Tariq said.
He saw people on his left running and screaming for help. Right behind them were three soldiers, he said. Everyone scattered and ran from the alley. Tariq said he tried to jump a gate but fell.
"I was running because I didn't know why they (Israeli authorities) were running after me," he said.
Tariq said he was slammed down, head first, when he was detained. He added that his hands were tied behind his back and he was kicked in the face, stomach and ribs and went unconscious for a time. Tariq was taken to jail where he was blindfolded and still handcuffed, he added.
Tariq said he felt the hits again when he watched a video of his beating after his release.
"I couldn't believe it. All the stuff I went through," Tariq said. "I was getting hit so much, I couldn't even say words . They beat on me like ... there was no problem."
Although the teen showed no visible injuries Sunday, Tariq said he has visited the hospital since his return.