The roving Florida teen says he interviewed a Hezbollah officer in Beirut

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated January 09, 2006 12:20 PM
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Farris Hassan, the 16-year-old Ft. Lauderdale prep-school student who took off Dec. 11 on an extracurricular trip to Iraq – behind his parents’ backs – says he starting planning the trip in November, “after seeing those distressed people” in the war-torn nation.

And, he says, his adventure took him face to face with an official from Hezbollah, the Lebanese umbrella organization of radical Islamic Shiite groups.

In an interview with MSNBC to air Monday night, Hassan, who returned home on New Year’s Day, says his original intention was to “go over there and volunteer for the Red Cross or … something along those lines, to help the Iraqis rebuild their lives,” according to an advance transcript of the TV Q&A with Rita Crosby.

Erudite and thoughtful before the camera, Hassan says he “had spoken with my mother about going to the Middle East, and she said possibly if it gets safer.” But he “didn’t really believe her,” he admits, “so from then on I took matters into my own hands.”

The money for the trip came from investments he had made on his own after initial funds provided by his parents. His route took him from Miami to Amsterdam, then to Kuwait City. “I took a taxi from … Kuwait City to the Iraqi border twice. Both times I was turned away.”

His solution was to spend 10 days in Beirut, where he stayed with family friends. “The reason I traveled to Lebanon is because I thought, well, it’s probably the second best place in the Middle East to do journalistic research.” And research he did. “I really immersed myself in all of the different sections and all the different factions in Lebanon, with the Christians, with the Sunnis, with the Shia.”

Most impressive is that he put his studies into practice. “I interviewed a media relations officer for Hezbollah, and I … asked him (about) everything ranging from Iraq to America to Israel to in-depth Lebanese politics.”

Hassan proudly states “I actually sort of nailed him on one point,” after the officer said “Palestine belongs to the Palestinians, because they’ve been there for centuries, and all the Jews there should go back to Europe.”

Hassan says his response was: “Well, the Christians have been in Lebanon long before the Muslims, and 50 years ago, they were indisputably the majority. Under your same premise, shouldn’t the Shiite newcomers return to their homelands?”

The officer’s reaction? “He, in fact, was stumped by that. We both knew I had got him, and for – and I’m not exaggerating – the next 30 seconds, we both started cracking up and laughing.”

Still, Hassan concedes that he feels “guilty and I regret the grief I have caused my family” for leaving without explanation and “am worried that with the media coverage they may have glorified what I did.”

He warns those who may be inspired by his actions that “I came this close on several occasions to being kidnapped and dying. God must have been with me the entire way.”

As for those who might wish to follow in his footsteps, Hassan discourages the idea saying, “If you go to Iraq, there is great chance you will get kidnapped and you will be killed.”