- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Fresh from his unauthorized odyssey to Iraq, American teen Farris Hassan had a steak dinner and a night of seclusion, but he won’t be going out with friends just yet, his mother said yesterday.

Inspired by a high school journalism class, 16-year-old Farris traveled to Iraq on his own so he could immerse himself in the lives of its citizens, prompting a reminder from U.S. officials about the dangers of going to a war zone. He returned safely to Florida on Sunday, dodging throngs of reporters and photographers.

Farris was able to secure an entry visa for Iraq because his parents were born there, though they’ve been in the United States for more than three decades. He took his U.S. passport and $1,800 in cash when he left Dec. 11, but did not tell his family what he was doing until he arrived in Kuwait.

He had thought he would be able to take a taxi from Kuwait into Baghdad for the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, but the border was closed for voting. He stayed with family friends in Lebanon before flying to Baghdad on Dec. 25.

In Iraq, he stayed at an international hotel along with other Americans, drawing a crowd at a Baghdad food stand after using an Arabic phrase book to order.

Last Tuesday, Farris contacted the AP bureau in Baghdad and related his story.

“I thought I’d go the extra mile for that, or rather, a few thousand miles,” he said last week.

His mother, Shatha Atiya, said yesterday the boy and his father, Dr. Redha Hassan, went out for a steak dinner and then went to an undisclosed location where their son could have a long sleep. She said she wasn’t sure when he would make a public statement.

“I’m just extremely happy he’s home safe. We’re going to sit down and discuss the consequences,” she said outside her Fort Lauderdale home.

She said Farris wanted to see his friends, but she told him he can’t do that yet.

He was scheduled to return to his private school today, but administrators first want to meet with him and his parents.

Farris left Baghdad on Friday, as U.S. Consul General Richard B. Hermann reiterated State Department warnings against traveling to Iraq. Forty American citizens have been kidnapped since the war started in March 2003, of whom 10 have been killed, a U.S. official said.

While in Iraq, Farris said he thought a trip to the Middle East was a healthy vacation compared with a trip to Colorado for holiday skiing.

“You go to, like, the worst place in the world and things are terrible,” he said. “When you go back home, you have such a new appreciation for all the blessing you have there, and I’m just going to be, like, ecstatic for life.”

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