TAMPA — A raucous crowd burst into cheers and began chanting Tariq Khdeir's name when the teenager came into sight walking down the airport terminal.
Tariq pushed his way through the melee at Tampa International Airport late Wednesday night, moved aside the flashing cameras and ducked waving Palestinian and American flags to hug his grandmother before anyone else.
"It feels so good to be back in Tampa," Khdeir said at a news conference held at the airport after he landed in Tampa with his family shortly after 10 p.m.
Tariq, 15, has drawn international attention after a video surfaced of two Israeli police officers wearing riot gear brutally beating him during a protest in Jerusalem earlier this month.
Tariq, a Palestinian American who attends Tampa's Universal Academy of Florida and was vacationing with his family, suffered extensive injuries. Photos of his badly bruised face and swollen lips have circulated since the attack.
Israeli officials said that Tariq resisted arrest and attacked police officers at a protest held ahead of a funeral for his cousin, Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The sixteen-year-old cousin was burned and killed in what Palestinians are calling an act of revenge for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in June. His family maintains that Tariq did not commit any crimes.
After he was released from jail, Tariq was sentenced to nine days of house arrest at his uncle's home in Jerusalem.
"The past two weeks have been a nightmare for my whole family," said Suha Khdeir, Tariq's mother.
Wearing a black t-shirt, tan shorts and Adidas shoes, Tariq appeared exuberant alongside his parents. Only a trace of a cut was visible above his lip.
"I'm only 15 but I will never think about freedom the same way I did two months ago," Tariq said.
Mohamad Marie, Tariq's best friend, said he's looking forward to going to the movies and hanging out with his classmate again.
"I'm excited that he's not severely hurt and he's back safe," Marie said.
On Thursday, Tariq will visit a doctor and undergo a CT scan to determine if he has any lingering injuries, said Hamdi Swelem, Tariq's uncle.
After the brief news conference ended, Tariq entered the airport elevators escorted by several police officers, got in the family's car and went home
Contact Liz Crampton at [email protected] or (813)-226-3401. Follow @liz_crampton.