A class project inspires a Florida teen to get to the war zone all on his own

By Stephen M. Silverman
December 30, 2005 08:00 AM

Give him an A for effort – and empathy for his parents.

On Dec. 11, Farris Hassan, 16, of Ft. Lauderdale bought a $900 plane ticket, cut class, sneaked away from his parents and headed to Iraq on a flight from Lebanon, saying that he was pursuing his interest in news reporting as suggested by his high-school journalism teacher.

Now that Hassan’s been found, his anguished – yet somewhat proud – mother, Shatha Atiya, a psychologist, is telling NBC News: “I have no idea how he did it.”

Farris, a junior at the exclusive Pine Crest prep school, is the youngest child of a South Florida physician, the Iraqi-born Redha Hassan and his wife, both of whom have lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years, say reports.

As for why he did it, Farris apparently was determined to witness Iraq’s struggle for democracy firsthand. Yet Redha Hassan told his local paper, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, that the only warning his son left behind was an e-mail. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about me, I will be safe.'”

But his father worried. “I said to myself, ‘You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.’ For $100, they kidnap people. The suicide bombers, they look for foreigners. He’s young, with an American passport and doesn’t speak a word of Arabic.”

Still, Farris’s moxie had him traveling throughout the Middle East for two weeks before walking into a war zone office of the Associated Press in Baghdad. Stunned AP employees immediately called the U.S. Embassy – where officials took custody of him and contacted his parents.

Farris is now scheduled to return home in the next few days – although his father is quite willing to allow his son to continue his adventure, within certain limits.

Redha Hassan told the Sun-Sentinel that he gave his son the choice of coming home or going to Beirut for a week to stay with family friends, and then head to Baghdad once the border opened and private security could be arranged.

“I felt it would leave a scar, disappointing him in his young life,” Redha Hassan said of shipping Farris home. “I learned long ago that if you say no, they stick to the point and insist on doing it. Nothing fazed him.”