View Full Version : Teenager survives secret solo trip to Baghdad

12-30-05, 02:46 PM
Times Online December 30, 2005
Teenager survives secret solo trip to Baghdad
By Vik Iyer and agencies

Most mothers would love the idea of a teenage son who enjoys debating and reading, rather chasing girls and staying out late with friends.

But one idealistic 16-year old has invented a new way for recalcitrant children to worry their mothers to distraction after he went to Baghdad alone in the name of cutting-edge journalism.

Armed with only an Arabic phrase book and some cash, Farris Hassan can count himself lucky to be alive after a series of adventures involving desert taxis and frantic phone calls.

Hassan, a 16-year-old from Florida, hopped on a flight without his parent's permission and then attempted an incredibly dangerous border crossing into Iraq by taking a taxi through the desert from Kuwait City.

When that failed, he took a plane to Baghdad last Sunday, with his first full day being punctuated by the deafening noise of six vehicle bombs, which killed five and injured more than 40.

Once journalists got whiff of his arrival, US embassy staff were alerted, and the teenager was put on a flight which leaves today and will be back in Florida by the weekend where he will meet with his relieved parents.

It would appear that Hassan was so inspired by an "immersion journalism" assignment set by his school that he decided to go out and "live the story" in the old tradition pioneered by the late Hunter S Thompson.

But Westerners in Baghdad all agree that the boy had a miraculous escape after somehow getting to the war-torn area virtually without any help.

Stephen Farrell, Middle East Correspondent in Baghdad, said: "It is hard to imagine anything more dangerous short of water-skiing in shark infested waters with half a dog carcass hanging off the back of your water skis.

"This is one of the most dangerous countries in the world."

He added: "The border is is teeming with smugglers, criminals and carjacking gangs who lie in wait. The road from Baghdad airport to Baghdad is bad enough, pitted with bomb holes.

"As for wandering around and going into restaurants asking for what's on the menu ... he is lucky he was not on the menu."

Insurgents and jihadists have kidnapped more than 400 foreigners in Iraq, killing at least 39 of them. Forty American citizens have been taken since the war started in March 2003, of which 10 have been killed, a US official said. About 15 remain missing.

The beginnings of this adventure were sown when Hassan, a high-school student in Fort Lauderdale, read The New Journalism, an introduction to immersion reporting featuring the work of writers like John McPhee, who live the life of their subjects in order to better understand them.

Hassan ended up choosing to do an assignment on the Iraq war and decided that he would go there to experience the turmoil for himself. He said: "I thought I’d go the extra mile for that, or rather, a few thousand miles."

Using money his parents had given him at one point, he bought a plane ticket and left the country on December 11.

After his initial taxi plan failed because of tightened border security, he went to Beirut, Lebanon, to stay with family friends, and flew from there to Baghdad.

Speaking of his aborted first entry, Hassan said: "If they’d let me in from Kuwait, I probably would have died. That would have been a bad idea."

He again called his father, who told him to come home.

But Hassan insisted on going to Baghdad so his father advised him to stay with family friends in Beirut. The student flew there and spent 10 days in the country before moving on to Baghdad on Christmas Day.

After his second night in Baghdad, he contacted the Associated Press news agency and said that he had come to do research and humanitarian work.

Extracts from his essay show how seriously the teenager has taken the problems created by the Iraq war. "There is a struggle in Iraq between good and evil, between those striving for freedom and liberty and those striving for death and destruction," it said.

"Those terrorists are not human but pure evil. For their goals to be thwarted, decent individuals must answer justice’s call for help."

US State Department officials notified his parents, and assured Hassan’s mother, Shatha Atiya, that her son was in Baghdad’s US-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. He is very driven and he is very patriotic. He believes in democracy, " Atiya said.

His mother said her son is studious, works on the school newspaper and is on the debate team. She added: "He thinks girls require too much time and he has more important things to do. He loves history."

Hassan said that his plans on his return to Florida were to "kiss the ground and hug everyone."