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Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014
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Family relieved at Israel release of Tampa teen


Published:   |   Updated: July 7, 2014 at 07:04 AM

TAMPA — The family of Tariq Abu Khdeir, the 15-year-old Tampa boy whose brutal beating at the hands of Israeli police has made global headlines, was relieved to learn Sunday that he was released from jail.

Tariq was sentenced to nine days of home detention while police investigate his involvement in violent protests that started after his cousin, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, was abducted and burned alive last week in Jerusalem.

Tariq’s aunt, Sanah Abu Khdeir, of Tampa, said Sunday she hopes that the boy and his parents will be home by July 16. Tariq is an American citizen of Palestinian descent.

Sanah Abu Khdeir was quick to add that her family’s ordeal is not over.

“This is (treatment) that Palestinians receive every day,” said Khdeir, who visits the region twice a year. “It’s outrageous that a victim gets (put in jail) while those who beat him walk free. That’s what really hurts. It’s a slap in the face.”

Tariq is a rising sophomore at Universal Academy of Florida, a private Islamic school on Orient Road.

Tariq’s parents, also in Jerusalem, say their son was beaten Thursday by Israeli police during clashes over the killing of Tariq’s cousin. The beating was captured on video and quickly circulated around the world via news media and YouTube.

“I was attacked by police. I woke up in the hospital,” Tariq told CNN as he walked out of court in Jerusalem on Sunday.

His mother, Suha Abu Khdeir, said the family “definitely” will sue Israeli authorities, according to CNN.

Sanah Abu Khdeir said that her nephew would likely not have been released from jail if he wasn’t American.

“He would have died if he wasn’t a U.S. citizen,” she said. “And definitely, nobody would have known. The world would not know.”

Footage of Tariq’s release showed him dressed in a black Ecko T-shirt. He appeared badly bruised, with both eyes and his mouth swollen. As he returned to his family, he was crying.

“I feel better. I am excited to be back home,” he said.

The U.S. State Department said it was “profoundly troubled” by reports of his beating, and Israel’s Justice Ministry launched an investigation.

Later in the day, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki issued a statement, saying the U.S. was following the case and that “if the investigation is concluded promptly, Mr. Khudeir should be able to return to Florida as planned with his family later this month.”

Mohammed Abu Khdeir was abducted outside his home in east Jerusalem early Wednesday and his charred remains were found in a Jerusalem forest shortly afterward. An autopsy showed that Mohammed was burned alive.

Palestinians immediately accused Jewish extremists of killing Mohammed to avenge the earlier kidnapping and killings of three Israeli teens.

Mickey Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, told The New York Times that a video of Tariq’s beating was “edited and biased” and did not represent the scope of events.

Rosenfeld said that hundreds of rioters, many of them masked, had thrown pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails, fireworks and stones at Israeli police. Rosenfeld implied that Tariq was among a group that resisted arrest and attacked police.

Tariq’s family say that he was unarmed when police beat him.

“It has been terribly hard,” Sanah Abu Khdeir said. “It’s been five days of no sleeping. We can’t forget the death of our cousin, who was burned alive. We’re still mourning the loss of Mohammed and still need to see justice and accountability.”

Tariq’s release from jail Sunday came as Israeli authorities announced the arrests of six Jewish suspects in the death of Mohammed.

Israeli authorities said the killers had acted out of “nationalistic” motives and described them as young males, including several minors, all of whom lived in the Jerusalem area.

The suspects remained in custody and were being interrogated, authorities said.

Tariq’s aunt said her nephew was eager to visit Jerusalem to learn about his roots. She said that he may face extensive medical treatment when he gets home.

“He’s still got a swollen face and it’s uneven on what the diagnosis is,” Sanah Abu Khdeir said. “We’re not sure (of his condition) until he’s seen by a doctor here in the U.S. Over there, there’s so much media attention and bombardment around him, and he’s under house arrest, so it’s hard to get the medical attention he needs.”

Ahmad Abukhdeir, who said he is a cousin of Tariq’s, described the teenager as a quiet and reserved soccer enthusiast. Abukhdeir’s wife, May Khdeir, is principal at Universal Academy of Florida. She declined to comment.

“The family’s horrified by what happened,” Abukhdeir said. “It was kind of a shock. He’s just a normal American teen who was visiting at the wrong time.

“Everybody goes there to vacation. Anything can happen at any time. We expect it to happen and just hope it doesn’t.”

Sanah Abu Khdeir said that although Tariq was treated at a hospital in Jerusalem, he needs to see a neurosurgeon to determine if he suffered a traumatic brain injury and a psychologist to help him cope with what he has endured.

“Our main point is that this is not over,” Sanah Abu Khdeir said. “We just pray to God that things get better. We are really proud to be Americans during this time.”

gfox@tampatrib.com

(813) 731-8162

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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