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Tampa teen beaten and detained in Israel, relatives say

TAMPA — Suha and Salah Abu Khdeir's family vacation was supposed to be a time to reconnect with family in their native village in East Jerusalem.

But on Saturday, the Tampa couple's 15-year-old son, Tariq, was being held in an Israeli jail, suddenly a central figure in an international firestorm that has erupted over his cousin's abduction and killing last week.

Tariq, a sophomore at Tampa's Universal Academy of Florida, is accused of attacking police during a protest ahead of Mohammed Abu Khdeir's funeral in the village of Shuafat in East Jerusalem, his parents and Israeli officials said. Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, was found burned to death Wednesday in what Palestinians call a revenge killing.

The Abu Khdeirs 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. Tariq had not been charged with a crime Saturday and has a court appearance scheduled for today, his father told the Tampa Bay Times by phone from Jerusalem.

"That video is attempted murder," Salah Abu Khdeir said. "He's in very, very bad shape."

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Tariq had resisted arrest and attacked police officers during a protest Thursday ahead of Mohammed Abu Khdeir's funeral. 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, adding that several officers were hurt in that specific protest, one of many that day.

Tariq's relatives don't believe those allegations and are outraged by his beating and what they say is a lack of due process by Israeli authorities.

"If he did something wrong, if he broke the law, okay. Judge him, don't kill him," his father said.

The videos show the two officers kicking, punching and stomping on a person lying on the ground. His face is not visible, but Tariq's relatives say they recognize their son's clothing.

Photos released by the family reportedly show Tariq after the incident, his lip swollen and face bloody. The family says police waited six hours to take him to a hospital.

Salah Abu Khdeir said an American consular officer met with his son Saturday afternoon. Tariq said he didn't remember what led up to his arrest, his father said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations called on the U.S. State Department to intervene and secure his release. The State Department released a statement confirming that Tariq was being held by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem and was visited Saturday by a U.S. Consulate General official.

"We are profoundly troubled by reports that he was severely beaten while in police custody and strongly condemn any excessive use of force," the statement read.

Tariq's cousin Mohammed Abu Khdeir was sitting on a wall outside a mosque and his home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat at 3:45 a.m. Wednesday, waiting for the dawn prayer, when a gray Hyundai pulled up and two people forced him into the car, according to video footage that news outlets obtained from security cameras. His charred body was found in the Jerusalem Forest about 90 minutes later.

Palestinians accused Israeli extremists of killing him to avenge the deaths of three Israeli teenagers who were abducted and killed in the West Bank last month. Israeli police said they have not yet determined who killed Mohammed Abu Khdeir or why.

Salah Abu Khdeir says his son had formed a bond with the cousin while dancing together in a group that performs at the family's functions — and was one of the last people to see him alive.

According to Abu Khdeir, Tariq ran into his cousin on the street and asked him to go to the mosque to pray with him, and the cousin said he would be there after he finished his cigarette. Tariq heard shouting and rushed back out into the street, but by then his cousin was gone, his father said.

Tariq was too young to remember his last trip to Jerusalem more than a decade ago. This time, the family left for Jerusalem in mid June and planned to stay for a month.

Tariq was born in Baltimore, and the family moved from there to Florida about six years ago. They own a Pita's Republic in Sarasota. The couple's daughters, ages 10 and 5, also attend Universal Academy, an Islamic school on Orient Road.

Tariq plays basketball there, gets good grades and loves to fish, his father said.

"My son is good," he said. "You can ask his teachers. He's not a tough boy."

Times staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which contains information from the Associated Press. Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

Tampa teen beaten and detained in Israel, relatives say 07/05/14 [Last modified: Saturday, July 5, 2014 10:35pm]

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