This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/1529
Contradictory accounts of teen and father's story and family friends connection to Hizbollah terror group indicates failed Jihad trip
January 9, 2006
MIM: Nothing made sense about Farris Hassan's trip to Beirut and to Iraq, and all of the stories he and his parents told varied with each newspaper article.
Most likely he went to join Jihad and got cold feet. His father Redha Hassan was very likely aware of his plans.
After the trip gained international publicity it was clear that someone had advised Hassan to write an essay denouncing terrorism to cover his tracks and spin the story of a precocious teen who wanted to do his bit for humanity, instead of questioning a pattern of rich kids of Muslim immigrants who run off to do Jihad in their parents place of birth.
(The son of Ethan Allen CEO Farooq Kathwari is a case in point. Irfan Kathwari was born into privledge and wealth, and his Kashmiri born father who is still involved in promoting the Kashmiri cause,made him announce he was going abroad to study. Although the family intially tried to dissuade him they eventually relented and arranged for him to meet with family when he got to Pakistan. From Pakistan - Irfan Kathwari went to Afghanistan where he died in an attack on Indian forces in 1992 . In an interview his father Farooq Kathwari said "my son lies buried in the rubble of Aghanistan
". Kathwari's brother Rafiq is a journalist who wrote a poem and an article extolling his nephew as a "freedom fighter" who died in 'Allah's cause'. Rafiq Kathwari was also employed by Ethan Allen when he first came to the U.S. where he fled after being imprisoned in Kashmir for what were designated as 'terrorist activities'.)
It is also worth noting that Redha Hassan, Farris's father lied to media . Hassan had also been arrested in an Iraqi passport and military ID forging scheme in 1985, and dissapeared from the public eye as did his son who suddenly declined to face the media.
Redha Hassan had claimed that he had friends in the "Iraqi security services" who would take his son to Baghdad.( The claim that the teen had been escorted was discounted by an American official Baghdad.) If Redha Hassan has friends in the Iraqi security services he should be under law enforcement scrutiny since many in the Iraqi security services are potential fifth columnists and former Baathists.
In addition Redha Hassan told his son to stay with friends of the family whose connections to the terrorist group Hizbollah led to his son Farris securing an interview with the head of Hizballah's 'media relations' aka propaganda department, in Lebanon, which leads to the conclusion that the Hassan's father encouraged his son to pursue his Jihadist proclivities.
The story not only parallels that of Ethan Allen CEO Farooq Kathwari, whose wealthy American born son left his life of luxury behind in the U.S.to die a martyr in Afghanistan it smacks of a copycat case in Holland, where three Muslim boys were given press coverage after returning from an abortive Jihad trip, which they claimed was a shopping excursion in Azerbajan.The trio was arrested in Azerbijan, imprisoned and beaten, and shipped back to Holland, where they claimed that they had only gone to Azerbijan because they were 'bored with Turkey' and wanted to "go shopping" in Baku.
The sappy and maudlin essay Hassan wrote which was published in the media saying he had gone to Iraq because he ' wanted to join the Red Cross' out of compassion for his fellow man sounds contrived, and reads as if someone was telling him to cover his tracks and spin the story to look like a humanitarian mission instead of an abortive Jihad jaunt.Unfortunately the media has accepted his story unchallenged and the latest revelation of his interview with Hizbollah leads to the conclusion that Farris Hassan was more interested in Jihad then journalism.
|Baghdad boy met with Hezbollah|
|BY JANE H. FURSE|
SPECIAL TO THE NY Daily NEWS Originally published on January 9, 2006
"I had to travel through alleyways and I finally walked - this was in the southern Shiite section of Beirut, the poorest section. So walking through alleyways, going up crooked staircases with bullet holes in the walls. And there was no sign saying, this is the Hezbollah office, of course not," Farris Hassan tells MSNBC's Rita Cosby in an interview airing tonight.
A sheepish Farris, 16, also tells Cosby he's been racked with guilt about the worry he caused his parents, and he worries about "copycats."
"I will feel so guilty if some copycats go to Iraq and cause the military all kinds of trouble. And God forbid one of them gets their head cut off," he said.
But the passionate student whose Iraqi parents immigrated to the U.S. decades ago also boasts that he "nailed" the Hezbollah official during an interview.
For the two-hour meeting with the militant group's head of media relations - arranged by family friends Farris stayed with in Beirut - the teen says he posed as an American student writing a sympathetic article about Hezbollah, a group known to support Palestinian suicide bombers.
"I actually sort of nailed him on one point. He told me that Palestine belongs to the Palestinians because they've been there for centuries and all the Jews there should go back to Europe.
"And I told him, well, the Christians have been in Lebanon long before the Muslims, and 50 years ago, they were indisputably the majority. Under your same premise, shouldn't the Shiite newcomers return to their homelands?"
Farris claimed they shared a hearty laugh after the man realized "he, in fact, was stumped" by the kid's logic.
Farris' week off began in December after he sold $5,000 worth of stocks he'd been trading on the Internet to buy a ticket to Kuwait. But his plan to take a taxi to Iraq from Kuwait City was foiled when the Kuwait-Iraq border shut down due to the Iraq elections in mid-December.
He then traveled to Lebanon, where he contacted family friends who arranged transport to Baghdad on Dec. 25 and the reality of the violent war began to hit home. "On my first day I encountered 22 explosions. After that I stopped counting," said Farris, whose interest in traveling to Iraq was sparked by a class in "immersion" journalism.
Asked what he would tell others who may think his stunt is worth trying, Farris said, "I would like to tell them that I came this close on several occasions to being kidnapped and dying."
Teen who flew to Iraq coming home to face more trouble
Farris Hassan's death-defying adventure to Iraq came to a happy ending Friday, as the 16-year-old runaway began the long journey home to Fort Lauderdale -- his friends and family grateful that he made it out alive.
But he could be in a whole lot of trouble when he gets home.
His mother says she will welcome him with open arms, but then give him a talking to about the fright he put her through.
His 23-year-old brother says he will give him a hug, and then a spanking.
The president of his prep school says he will likely be disciplined.
And the U.S. State Department is asking him some tough questions.
As of Friday evening, Farris' relatives said they were waiting for an update from the U.S. government about when or where the prep school junior would arrive.
Farris told The Associated Press on Friday he wasn't aware that the story of his dangerous travels had been published around the world -- or that his relatives were being interviewed on television.
"I don't have any Internet access here in the Green Zone, so I have no idea what's going on," he said.
Farris, a junior at Fort Lauderdale's exclusive Pine Crest School, bought a plane ticket with his own money and departed for the Mideast on Dec. 11.
His parents said they did not know about his departure until hearing from him in Kuwait. His father, Dr. Redha Hassan, said he was "disappointed and fearful" when he found out his son had gone on his own.
"My primary concern was not having him snatched in the first five minutes and beheaded on television," Hassan told The Miami Herald on Friday evening.
Hassan fled Iraq 33 years ago, fearing he would be killed. His son, who he said shares his understanding of the country's turmoil and poverty, told his father he wanted to go to Iraq, and Hassan promised to take him when the time was right.
Hassan said his son recognized that he lived a life far different from those in his father's native country.
"The Iraqi people are a peace-loving people, and Farris has picked up on that. I didn't expect Farris to be so powerful in his feelings. My children, they have never seen poverty, and they have lived in luxury all their lives," Hassan said.
The father said he had returned Dec. 10 from his own trip to Iraq.
The next day, Farris launched his secret voyage. Without telling his parents, the idealistic teen purchased a round-trip ticket on KLM Airlines because its policy allows minors to travel alone.
SENT E-MAIL TO PARENTS
Farris notified his family by e-mail when he reached Kuwait City, then spent time interviewing residents of Kuwait, Lebanon and Iraq while staying with relatives of his parents, who live in the Fort Lauderdale area.
He made his way to the AP's Baghdad office Tuesday, where journalists put him in touch with the U.S. embassy. State Department officials took custody of him and arranged for him to fly back to South Florida this weekend.
"[T]he young American citizen . . . has now safely departed Baghdad," U.S. Consul General Richard Hermann wrote in a statement Friday.
Farris was still with State Department officials in Kuwait City awaiting a flight to the United States, Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 reported Friday. A spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad would not comment on the report.
BORN IN AMERICA
Farris is the youngest of four children born in America to Hassan and Shatha Atiya, who divorced in 2002. Hassan, an anesthesiologist, lives in a beachside condo in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea; his ex-wife, also a native of Iraq, lives on a finger island just north of Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.
Hassan said he has often visited his home country, sometimes without telling anyone -- a trait his son seems to have inherited.
$1,800 IN CASH
Before leaving, Farris took his U.S. passport along with $1,800 in cash, the AP reported. He said the money came from $10,000 his mother had given him after he gave her some stock tips that earned a 25 percent return.
Described by friends and relatives as a straight-A student and self-starter, Farris had wanted to observe with his own eyes Iraq's shift to democracy. He had recently taken a journalism class about writers delving into their subjects' lives for a broader perspective.
"We kids at Pine Crest live such sheltered lives," Farris wrote in an e-mail essay obtained by the AP. "I want to experience during my Christmas the same hardships ordinary Iraqis experience every day, so that I may better empathize with their distress."
School officials are deciding what repercussions he will face for cutting school for a week.
"I imagine there will be some discipline situation, but right now we're trying to figure out what to do with that," Pine Crest President Lourdes Cowgill said.
She explained that Farris is an "idealist . . . and has always been in good standing" with the school. The trip to Iraq was not sanctioned by his teachers, she said.
When Farris failed to show up for school earlier this month, Cowgill said administrators called his parents.
Farris' brother, Hayder Hassan, said his parents were shocked to learn about the teenager's impromptu trip.
His mother said she was relieved her son is safe, but she planned to make sure that he stays close to home.
The State Department issued an updated travel warning Thursday urging Americans against going to Iraq. It said the country remains "very dangerous" with continued reports of kidnappings and murders of U.S. citizens.
Farris' father and two of his uncles made news in 1985 when they were arrested and charged with conspiracy and violations of U.S. passport laws. The charges, which were later dropped, alleged that they paid a printer to forge 2,000 Iraqi passports and military identification cards.
The charges were upheld against a fourth man, Salah Jawad Shubber, who is unrelated to the Hassans. Shubber, an Iraqi citizen, pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge in 1985 and was forced to leave the United States for five years.
Hassan on Friday defended his actions, saying he was trying to get passports to refugees who lived in poverty.
At a news conference in October 1985, the Hassan brothers described the brutal life they led in Iraq, saying a brother had been executed there in the 1970s and their parents had been tortured.
A member of his school's Teenage Republican Club and the football team, Farris is described by classmates as a happy, friendly kid with an inquisitive mind.
"He does have a lot of big ideas," said Michael Buckwald, 17, a Pine Crest senior. "But I mean even if you're really outspoken, people don't really expect you to do something like that."
Researcher Scott Hutchinson contributed to this story.
Click here for video
Farris Hassan talks about trip to Iraq
In an exclusive interview, MSNBC's Rita Cosby talks to Farris Hassan, the 16-year-old Florida boy who skipped school to travel to Iraq. Hassan explains in detail the events of his trip, and he tells Cosby why he traveled to Iraq, how he got there, and whether his parents knew.
Watch Rita Cosby's full interiview tonight at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC. Here is an excerpt of that interview
WHY HE WENT TO IRAQ:
FARRIS HASSAN: I would say in November. After seeing those distressed people going through, I really felt compelled and I was consumed by passion to do something, to go over there and volunteer for the Red Cross or something like—something along those lines—to help the Iraqis rebuild their lives. I was looking forward to help maybe disbursing some food or just bringing a smile or two to some children there.
My uncle, who lived in Iraq, had—worked for the Red Cross and he told me of some stories and it really moved me. So I thought I'd like to go there myself and experience the hardships that the Iraqis were going through every day so I could better empathize with their distress.
DID HIS PARENTS KNOW:
HASSAN: I had spoken with my mother about going to the Middle East and she said possibly if it gets safer. I didn't really believe her when she said that so from then on I took matters into my own hands and I started planning the trip.
When I left, she had absolutely no idea what was going on and she in fact found out that I was not in school on Monday from the dean of students. And the dean of students asked her, Where's Farris? And she said, I don't know. I have no idea where he is and she was shocked when she got my email, unfortunately. And that makes me feel guilty and I regret the grief I have caused my family.
COSBY: What about your dad?
HASSAN: My dad did not have complete knowledge of all the specifics of my plannings. But he knew a bit more than my mother
BEING COMPARED TO FERRIS BUELLER:
HASSAN: Yes. I have seen many a headline stating, "Farris Hassan's Week Off." And, well, I am worried that it may glorify—I am worried that with the media coverage they may have glorified what I did. And I will feel so guilty if some copycats go to Iraq and cause the military all kinds of trouble. And God forbid one of them gets their heads cut off.
COSBY: If some other kid or someone else just says, hey, look what Farris did was cool.
COSBY: What would you say to another kid who says, look, Farris went there, he got all this press attention, why shouldn't I go?
HASSAN: I would like to tell them that I came this close on several occasions to being kidnapped and dying. God must have been with me the entire way. If I had gone into Kuwait, I am sure I would have died. If I had stayed at that restaurant in Baghdad or if I had left the hotel any longer, I would have died. I would have been kidnapped. So I would like to tell them that if you go to Iraq, there is great chance you will get kidnapped and you will be killed. In addition, like I stated earlier, I caused the military a tremendous amount of trouble. They had to divert resources and all kinds of stuff. They have a war to run. They don't need to be dealing with kids running off to Iraq.
COSBY: What do you want to say to the U.S. military, them helping you when they could have been doing something else?
HASSAN: I want to apologize for all the inconvenience I caused them, and I want to sincerely thank all the soldiers who risked their lives trying to help me get out of Iraq and keep me safe. They're great men over there, heroic soldiers, fighting every day for freedom—to bring freedom and democracy to people they don't even know.
COSBY: Were you embarrassed that the military had to help, as you say, a crazy kid?
HASSAN: Yes, I was. Well, I don't know about embarrassed, but just very—I felt very sheepish.
HOW DID HE GET THE MONEY TO GET OVER TO IRAQ:
HASSAN: The money was derived from investment money. My parents— both of my parents gave me $5,000 after I had demonstrated my knowledge of the stock market with helping my mother make 25 percent in like, two weeks, from investment tips.
I read a lot of books last summer, probably I would say four or five, and I get "Investor's Business Daily," great source of financial news, every single day and I read that. So the money was derived from my investment fund.
HOW HE GOT TO BAGHDAD AND WHAT HE DID ALONG THE WAY:
HASSAN: Well, I flew from Miami to Amsterdam, then to Kuwait City. I took a taxi from Kuwait—from Kuwait City to the Iraqi border twice. Both times I was turned away.
From then on, I was stranded in Kuwait until Thursday. From there, I traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, and I spent 10 days there.
COSBY: Where did you stay in Lebanon?
HASSAN: I stayed with family friends.
COSBY: What did you learn in Lebanon? You actually met, you were telling me, with one of the leaders of Hezbollah.
HASSAN: Yes. The reason I traveled to Lebanon is because I thought, well, it's probably the second best place in the Middle East to do research, to do journalistic research. So while I was there, I really immersed myself in all of the different sections and all the different factions in Lebanon, with the Christians, with the Sunnis, with the Shia.
COSBY: Tell me about your meeting with one of the leaders of Hezbollah. How did that come about?
HASSAN: Well, fortunately, my—the family with whom I was staying with was able to arrange several appointments with amazing figures in Lebanon—not amazing for a good reason, but just amazing to a 16-year-old, that I'd be able to get an appointment with them.
COSBY: Interesting figures.
HASSAN: Interesting figures. I interviewed a media relations officer for Hezbollah for about two hours and I prepared probably about 20 questions for him, asked him everything ranging from Iraq to America to Israel to in-depth Lebanese politics. I actually sort of nailed him on one point. He told me that Palestine belongs to the Palestinians because they've been there for centuries and all the Jews there should go back to Europe. And I told him, well, the Christians have been in Lebanon long before the Muslims, and 50 years ago, they were indisputably the majority. Under your same premise, shouldn't the Shiite newcomers return to their homelands? And he, in fact, was stumped by that. We both knew I had got him, and for and I'm not exaggerating. For the next 30 seconds, we both started cracking up and laughing.
COSBY: Where did you meet this main figure with Hezbollah?
HASSAN: I had to travel through alleyways and I finally walked—this was in the southern Shiite section of Beirut, the poorest section.
So walking through alleyways, going up crooked staircases with bullet holes in the walls. And there was no sign saying, this is the Hezbollah office, of course not.
COSBY: Were you worried about your safety?
HASSAN: No. I felt like I—no.
COSBY: Why not?
HASSAN: Well, with each group I immersed myself, I changed my persona. When I was with the Christians, I told them that I was a Lebanese Christian—an American Christian with Lebanese parents and that my name was Jason.
And when I met with the Hezbollah leader, I gave him the impression that I wanted to paint Hezbollah in a good light when I returned to the United States. And I told them that I write for the school newspaper and that I wanted to show Americans that Hezbollah is, in fact, a good organization that's fighting for freedom of the Shiite people in Lebanon.
COSBY: Did he believe you?
HASSAN: I think he did up until we started talking about the—up until we started talking about Israel.
COSBY: How long did you meet this leader from Hezbollah?
HASSAN: For two hours.
COSBY: A long time. Then you leave Lebanon after these experiences. You go back to Iraq. How did you get back in finally?
HASSAN: I took a plane flight from Beirut to Baghdad.
COSBY: And what did you do when you got to Iraq?
HASSAN: In Baghdad I had a driver who was arranged for me by family connections, take me to - I was hoping to go to the Sheraton Hotel Ishtar. When I arrived there, however, I found that he had - it was closed, it nicely and I found out a few weeks earlier it was hit by suicide bombs - a few car bombs and it put the hotel out of commission.
From there I thought that the best place for me was in a hotel that housed many westerners and Americans and other journalists so I moved to the Palestine Hotel.
COSBY: What did you see, what did you experience when you were in Baghdad. Did you see violence, did you hear violence?
HASSAN: Yes. On my first day I encountered 22 explosions. After that I stopped counting. I'm sure many of them - there were six vehicle bombs that day and there was in fact a gun fight. It felt like it was just a couple blocks away from the hotel. I could hear the machine gun fire back and forth and that night when I was - I spent Christmas night with the soldiers down at my hotel, guarding the hotel, I heard a helicopter crash. The whole ground shook and vibrating, it was a big explosion. It was probably about 11:30 at night.
And I later found out the next day it was two helicopters had collided and one of them had crashed and two marines had died and that really made the experience really to me.
COSBY: You actually got out even though you don't speak the language. How was that?
HASSAN: Out of Iraq?
COSBY: The hotel, rather. You actually moved about the streets even though you don't speak the language in Iraq. How did you do that?
HASSAN: Well, I knew that as long as I didn't open my mouth I would be find because I look Iraqi and I can blend in with the crowd and I got some nice advice from an interpreter that I should pretend that I speak Kurdish and that I speak a Turkish dialect of Arabic so people wouldn't know I'm American.
COSBY: Where else did you roam in Baghdad? Where else did you go?
HASSAN: I left the hotel and walked for about 25 minutes and I went to a restaurant, I went to just some food shops - I was looking around for some food, generally. After that I realized that I couldn't survive out there for more than an hour outside of the hotel because it was too dangerous.
COSBY: Weren't you worried that they were going to discover you were an American and try to kill you, take you hostage?
HASSAN: Yes, I was aware of the danger and I wouldn't say that I was scared, I wasn't frightened, I wasn't unnerved but especially when I was in the restaurant trying to find a menu and asking the hostess for a menu and I could tell they were all looking at me funny, especially after I took out my "Arabic at a Glance" guidebook. They could tell I was American, I knew I was in a dangerous situation and I left.
COSBY: You also reached out to some news organizations while you were there. Why did you do that?
HASSAN: Well, I—by my third day in Baghdad I realized that I couldn't do any humanitarian work or research in the current—in my current situation because I could not leave the hotel, and I had absolutely no connections in Baghdad and I was completely by myself.
So I approached the Associated Press, not to tell them my story, I just asked them if I could tag along with their news crew when they went out to cover stories in Baghdad.
COSBY: And you told me before that you contacted another news organization.
HASSAN: Yes, I wasn't planning on mentioning that, but the first organization I contacted in the Palestine Hotel was FOX News, and I told them I was a 16-year-old junior in Iraq for research and I wanted—was looking to do humanitarian work. I told them I was completely by myself and I wanted to meet with the producers, see if they could help me out in any way.
The first time the person—the Arabic man who answered the phone told me that oh, he'd just give my message to the FOX News men. I waited—and that they'd call me back if they were interested. I spend the whole night that day in my hotel room awaiting the call, but I did not receive it.
The next day, I gave FOX News a call and I asked them, you know, what's going on? I'm really in a desperate situation. I'm sure that your producers would like to meet me, and the man on the other end of the phone told me that he had given them my message, and that if they were interested, they'd give me a call, and then he hung up on me.
COSBY: So they never called you back.
HASSAN: They never called me back.
COSBY: They could've had this amazing story but never called you.
HASSAN: Yes. Well, they could've helped me but they never did.
HOW FARRIS FINALLY LEFT IRAQ AND ZARQAWI QUOTE:
HASSAN: Well, they told me that they could not force me to go and that it was my decision to leave Iraq. I finally had to leave on Friday, after the news story broke, and my parents were doing interviews, and I was all over the TV and the newspapers, this 16-year-old American in Baghdad.
And I believe one of the news organizations released the information that I was actually staying in the Al-Rashid Hotel. And that frightened the military a lot, that, you know—I'm sure at some point Abu Musab Zarqawi checked his email and saw the story. He's probably the last person you want knowing who you are and where you are. So, at that point, for security reasons, I had to leave Baghdad and return to the United States.
COSBY: And the 101st protected you, the 101st Airborne?
HASSAN: Yes, they did.
ON LEARNING ABOUT IMMERSION JOURNALISM:
HASSAN: In a way.
COSBY: Didn't you take this idea of immersion journalism to an extreme?
HASSAN: Most certainly. Most certainly. In fact, I think I did a pretty poor job as an emergent journalist. Normally an emergent journalist would learn the language and spend probably a year in the country and have several connections. I must say, I don't - there is no journalism class at Pinecrest School. I am taking English 3 AP so my teacher never expected me to do anything like this and they do not bear no one bears any responsibility for my actions except for me.
ON RETURNING TO IRAQ:
HASSAN: Some point in the future, not in the way I did it this time. But, yes, I do. It's a very dynamic and rich region.
This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/1529