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U.S. Teen Back From Iraq Odyssey

Farris Hassan, center, is escorted by his mother Shatha Atiya, right, and Miami International Airport officials through the throng of media awaiting his return home Sunday, Jan. 1, 2006 from a journey to Iraq. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)
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Inspired by a high school journalism class, Farris Hassan journeyed to the Middle East so he could immerse himself in the lives of Iraqi citizens.

Only it was Hassan's three-week solo trip that made headlines, and on Sunday the 16-year-old dodged throngs of reporters and photographers who waited for his safe arrival in Florida.

After waving to the swarm of media, a smiling Farris was whisked into seclusion by family members for a night of rest away from the media's glare. It was not clear where he spent his first night back home.

"I do want to tell you how flattered I am. The media has been very, very kind to me," the teen told The Associated Press by phone from his father's car. "I hope to get a good night's rest."

"He's very overwhelmed. I don't think he had any idea about all the media coverage," said his mother, Shatha Atiya. "We're happy he's fine. He's home, he's safe."

She said the two embraced and cried when then saw each other.

Inspired by a school lesson on immersion journalism and a desire to better understand what Iraqis are living through, Farris left the United States on Dec. 11 and traveled to Kuwait, missing a week of school. He thought he would be able to take a taxi from Kuwait into Baghdad for the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, but the border was closed for voting. He stayed with family friends in Lebanon before flying to Baghdad on Christmas.

In Iraq, he stayed at an international hotel along with other Americans. The teen, who does not speak Arabic, drew a crowd at a Baghdad food stand after using an Arabic phrase book to order.

On Tuesday, Farris contacted The Associated Press bureau in Baghdad and related his story.

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

The State Department has warned Americans not to visit Iraq. Forty U.S. citizens have been kidnapped since the war started in March 2003, and 10 of them have been killed, U.S. officials say. About 15 are missing.

But Farris was able to secure an entry visa for Iraq because both of his parents were born there, though they have been in the United States for more than three decades. He took his U.S. passport and $1,800 in cash, but did not tell his family what he was doing until he arrived in Kuwait and sent them an e-mail.

Farris' long journey home began Friday, when he was put on a military flight from Baghdad to Kuwait, his father said. He spent a day and a half under the watch of the 101st Airborne, the same division that had picked him up from a Baghdad hotel.

A U.S. official then accompanied the teen on a flight from Kuwait to Europe, and from there he flew home to the United States, said his father, Dr. Redha Hassan.

Now that he is back, Farris has some answering to do to some worried adults.

"He will loose his passport, for sure, and his access to money will be limited," his mother told CBS News correspondent Mark Strassman.

Officials at Pine Crest School, the academy he attends in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, have asked for a meeting with his parents before he is allowed to return to class. School officials were not available for comment Sunday night.

While in Iraq, Hassan said he thought a trip to the Middle East was a healthy vacation compared with a trip to Colorado for holiday skiing.

"You go to, like, the worst place in the world and things are terrible," he said. "When you go back home you have such a new appreciation for all the blessing you have there, and I'm just going to be, like, ecstatic for life."