TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A 15-year-old Palestinian-American from Florida who was taken into custody by Israeli security forces during a family visit to the Middle East says he was beaten and kicked so much he lost consciousness after the slaying of a cousin living there.
Tampa teenager Tariq Abu Khdeir flew home last week after his ordeal, which included nine days of house arrest by Israeli authorities. He told The Associated Press in an interview Sunday from his home in Tampa that the trip to see relatives had begun with a lot of “fun” in June.
“They took my cousin, my best friend ... they took him and they killed him,” Tariq said during the interview, seated on a couch beside his mother.
Three days after the teen was detained, Israeli authorities released the teen and sentenced him to the 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.
On Sunday, the Florida teen denied any part in rock-throwing protests, saying of the Israeli authorities, “I didn’t do anything to them to do this to me.”
He said he was only watching and listening to the commotion as a crowd had formed after the disappearance of his cousin when suddenly Israeli forces began shooting rubber bullets and tear gas. He said he saw people running and screaming for help. Right behind them were three soldiers, he added. Everyone scattered and ran. Tariq said he tried to jump a gate but fell, adding he felt the sting of a rubber bullet on his heel.
“I was running because I didn’t know why they (Israeli authorities) were running after me,” he said.
Tariq said he was seized and slammed down, head first. He added that his hands were tied with a plastic tie behind his back and he was kicked in the face, stomach and ribs and also went unconscious for a time. Tariq said he was then taken to a jail, where he was blindfolded.
After his release, Tariq said, he watched a video that someone had taken of his beating. He said he felt the hits all over again watching the video, which family credit with helping save his life.
“I couldn’t believe it. All the stuff I went through,” Tariq said of the video, adding it only captured the last few minutes of a 15-minute beating. “I was getting hit so much, I couldn’t even say words. They beat on me like ... there was no problem.”
At the time, the family was on what was planned as a six-week summer visit.
Tariq said in the interview that he and Mohammed had become close friends 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.
Mohammed was killed the fifth week of that visit, Tariq said, adding that the tenor of the trip immediately changed when his cousin was found dead.
“There was no next day,” Tariq said, recalling how he had come back from a quick trip to a bakery to learn the cousin had gone missing.
On Sunday, the teen showed no visible injuries. Yet his mother, Suha Khdeir, said Tariq has visited the hospital since and noted he needed stitches earlier from the beating and was bruised.
Tariq, who returns to school in coming weeks, said he hopes he’ll eventually be able to visit the region again — but without incident.
“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.”