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Iraq Odyssey Ends For U.S. Teen

A 16-year-old from Florida who traveled to Iraq on his own without telling his parents was put on a flight home Friday, the U.S. Embassy said, while warning Americans of the dangers of undertaking similar journeys.

Farris Hassan, of Fort Lauderdale, had been under the care of the U.S. Embassy after being on his own in Iraq for several days.

"I am very pleased to announce that the young American citizen who has been in Iraq the past few days has now safely departed Baghdad, and this young American is now on his way back home to his family in the United States," Consul General Richard B. Hermann said.

"I want to have him in my arms, I want to hug him and thank God he's OK," Hassan's mother, Shatha Atiya, said on CBS News' The Early Show.

Hermann reiterated warnings by the State Department and embassy against traveling to Iraq and said Americans in Iraq should register their presence. Forty American citizens have been kidnapped since the war started in March 2003, of which 10 have been killed, a U.S. official said. About 15 remain missing.

Hassan, a junior at Pine Crest School, a prep academy of about 700 students in Fort Lauderdale, recently studied immersion journalism — a writer who lives the life of his subject in order to better understand it. But once he made his trip known to the Associated Press,

and Hassan was given a full escort to the Green Zone, CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports.

The teenager, whose parents were born in Iraq but have lived in the United States for about 35 years, says he wanted to travel to Baghdad to better understand what Iraqis are living through.

"I thought I'd go the extra mile for that, or rather, a few thousand miles," he said.

Skipping a week of school, he left the country on Dec. 11, telling only two high school friends of his plans. His travels took him to Kuwait and Lebanon before he arrived in Iraq on Christmas Day.

Hassan's mother said she offered to take her son to Iraq later, when tensions eased, but he was not satisfied. He left without telling her, and sent an e-mail after his departure, Atiya said.

The teen traveled to Kuwait, where a taxi dropped him in the desert at the Iraq border, but he could not cross there because of tightened security ahead of the Iraqi parliamentary elections on Dec. 15. He went to Beirut, Lebanon, to stay with family friends, and flew from there to Baghdad.

Hassan spoke to The Associated Press early Friday, several hours before the embassy announcement, and he was still under the impression that he would be following his personal travel itinerary, which had him leaving the country by himself on Sunday.

He hadn't even been aware that the story of his perilous travels was published around the world — or that his mother was 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.

Given his heritage, Hassan could almost pass as Iraqi. His father's background helped him secure an entry visa, and native Arabs would see in his face Iraqi features and a familiar skin tone. His wispy beard was meant to help him blend in.

But underneath that Mideast veneer was a full-blooded American teen, a born-and-bred Floridian sporting white Nike tennis shoes and trendy jeans. And as soon as the lanky, 6-foot teenager opened his mouth — he speaks no Arabic — his true nationality would have betrayed him.

Traveling on his own in a land where insurgents and jihadists have kidnapped more than 400 foreigners, killing at least 39 of them, Hassan walked straight into a death zone. On Monday, his first full day in Iraq, six vehicle bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing five people and wounding more than 40.

At some point Hassan realized that traveling to Iraq by himself was not the safest thing he could have done with his Christmas vacation.

After his second night in Baghdad, he contacted the AP and said he had come to do research and humanitarian work. The AP called the U.S. Embassy, which sent U.S. soldiers to pick him up.

"A 16-year-old American high school student who doesn't speak any Arabic ... it's unbelievable that he is still ... that nothing happened to him," said AP reporter Patrick Quinn.

State Department officials notified his parents, and assured Atiya that her son was in Baghdad's U.S-protected Green Zone, where he would be safer than in the sector where he first contacted journalists.

"I was so anxious. Words cannot even express it," Atiya said Thursday.

Hassan does not speak Arabic and has no experience in war zones, but he wanted to find out what life was like there.

"He is very driven and he is very patriotic. He believes in democracy," his mother said.

Atiya said her son is studious, works on the school newspaper and is on the debate team. He is a member of a Republican Party club at school who spends his time reading, rather than socializing, his mother said.

"He thinks girls require too much time, and he has more important things to do. He loves history," Atiya said.

When school officials learned of Hassan's trip, they threatened to expel him, but Atiya and Hassan's father, Redha Hassan, a physician, persuaded officials to allow him to remain, Atiya said. It was not immediately clear why they wanted to expel him.

Michael Buckwald, a 17-year-old classmate, said Hassan immerses himself in subjects that he likes and was opinionated in class.

"He always struck me as a very intellectual person. He's very outspoken at the same time," Buckwald said.

Hassan is the youngest of Atiya's four children. The others are enrolled at universities.

Aside from the research he wanted to accomplish, he also wrote in an essay saying he wanted to volunteer in Iraq.

He said he wrote half the essay while in the United States, half in Kuwait, and e-mailed it to his teachers Dec. 15 while in the Kuwait City airport.

"There is a struggle in Iraq between good and evil, between those striving for freedom and liberty and those striving for death and destruction," he wrote.

Hassan told AP he understood how dangerous his trip was. He'd said that his plans on his return to Florida were to "kiss the ground and hug everyone."

His mother has plans for him, too.

"I guess a lot of restrictions are going to be imposed on him," she told The Early Show co-anchor Tracy Smith. "We're going to take his passport, we're going to limit his access to money."

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