Beaten Tampa teen, 15, released from Israeli jail

TAMPA — A 15-year-old boy who was beaten and arrested in Israel was sentenced to nine days of home detention and released to his family Sunday morning.

Tariq Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian American who attends Tampa's Universal Academy of Florida, was accused of attacking police during a protest before his cousin's funeral in the village of Shuafat in East Jerusalem.

Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, Tariq's cousin, was found burned to death Wednesday in the Jerusalem Forest in what Palestinians are calling an act of revenge for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers three weeks ago.

Tariq was reportedly badly injured in clashes with Israeli police Thursday. His parents say Tariq is the boy seen in video clips posted online that show two Israeli police officers in riot gear repeatedly beating and dragging him away to arrest him.

As Tariq returned to his family Sunday, he was crying and appeared badly bruised, with both eyes and his mouth swollen.

"I feel better, I am excited to be back home," he said, according to the Associated Press.

Tariq's uncle, Hamdi Abu Khdeir, who lives in Tampa, said he could not sleep until about 6 a.m. on Sunday because he wanted to hear an update on his nephew's condition. He talked to Tariq later in the morning.

"To be honest, he speaks very little," he said. "He has stitches all over his mouth and jaw."

Hamdi Abu Khdeir said he did not believe Israeli police allegations that Tariq rioted and resisted arrest, and he said the police's response was inexcusable.

"To beat him in this savage way, it's unacceptable for anybody," he said. "I wouldn't want it to happen to my worst enemy."

The U.S. State Department said it was "profoundly troubled" by reports of his beating and demanded an investigation. Israel's Justice Ministry quickly launched a formal investigation.

Tariq was vacationing with his parents, Suha and Salah Abu Khdeir, at the time of the arrest. The trip was meant to be a time to reconnect with family in their native village in East Jerusalem.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Tariq had resisted arrest and attacked police officers. Tariq was detained with a slingshot in his possession used to hurl stones at police, along with six other protesters, including some armed with knives, Rosenfeld said.

Once he can return to the United States, his family plans to bring him to a hospital as soon as possible.

"The problem is, you can fix the physical wounds . . . The interior wounds, the emotional wounds, that is the problem," his uncle said.

The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations expressed relief over Tariq's release. CAIR-Florida chief executive director Hassan Shibly said he spoke with Tariq's father, who said the reason Tariq's case moved forward and he was released so quickly was because of the global news coverage and the outcry on social media.

"They are extremely relieved and grateful to the world," Shibly said. "I think it's outrageous that the victim would receive any sort of sentence while those who brutally beat him right now walk free."

Shibly, who lives in the same Tampa neighborhood as the Khdeirs, said Tariq is an average teenage boy who loves fishing, playing basketball and taking selfies.

"This kid went through so much at such a young age," Shibly said. "We hope to give him a hero's welcome when he returns."

Shibly said the date of Tariq's return is still undecided and depends on the teen's health, but he expects the family will return to Tampa by the end of July.

Tariq is doing much better now that he is with his parents, Shibly said, but he is still recovering from his injuries. Shibly has been working with the family to set up medical appointments for when Tariq returns to Tampa.

"We are still extremely troubled by how he was treated and we will still pursue justice," Shibly said. "Obviously, this is going to shape him forever. This is probably going to be a big part of who he is."

Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report, which contains information from the Associated Press. Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.

Beaten Tampa teen, 15, released from Israeli jail 07/06/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 21, 2014 11:00am]

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