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U.S. Schoolboy Heads Home From Baghdad

From Associated Press

A 16-year-old from Florida who traveled to one of the world’s most dangerous places without telling his parents left Baghdad on Friday to begin his journey home, the U.S. Embassy said.

Farris Hassan’s mother said she was grateful he was headed back. Shatha Atiya said she already knew what her first words would be to the prep school junior.

“ ‘Thank God you’re alive,’ then I’ll collapse for a few hours and then sit down and have a long discussion about his consequences,” she said from Fort Lauderdale.

Consul General Richard B. Hermann said Friday that Hassan had safely left Baghdad, and he reiterated warnings by the State Department and the U.S. Embassy against traveling to Iraq.

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Forty U.S. citizens have been kidnapped since the war started in March 2003, and 10 of them have been killed, a U.S. official said. About 15 remain missing.

The teenager spoke to Associated Press early Friday, several hours before the embassy announcement, and he was still under the impression that he would be following his personal travel itinerary, which had him leaving the country by himself Sunday.

He wasn’t even aware that the story of his perilous travels had made the news around the world -- or that his mother was being interviewed on television.

“I don’t have any Internet access here in the Green Zone, so I have no idea what’s going on,” he said.

Hassan left the United States on Dec. 11 and traveled to Kuwait, where he thought he could take a taxi into Baghdad and witness the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

Hassan had recently taken a class on immersion journalism -- when a writer lives the life of his subject -- and wanted to understand better what Iraqis were living through.

“I thought I’d go the extra mile for that -- or rather, a few thousand miles,” he said in an interview this week.

The teenager was able to secure an entry visa because his parents were born in Iraq, though they’ve not been there in more than three decades.

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Skipping a week of school, he told only two of his school friends of his plans to leave the country. He didn’t tell his parents until he arrived in Kuwait.

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

In Kuwait, a taxi dropped him in the desert at the Iraq border, but he could not cross over because of heightened security ahead of the elections.

He then went to Beirut to stay with family friends, and from there flew to Baghdad on Christmas Day.

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After his second night in Baghdad, he contacted Associated Press, saying he had come to do research and humanitarian work.

The news agency called the U.S. Embassy, which sent American soldiers to pick him up.


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