Tariq Abu Khdeir spent his first hours in Tampa in the emergency room, getting the injuries he suffered in Israel examined by doctors here at home, the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Thursday.
Tariq, 15, arrived at Tampa International Airport late Wednesday night and was greeted by loud cheers and applause from family and friends.
"It feels so good to be back in Tampa. I cannot even put it into words," Tariq said shortly after getting off the plane. "I can't wait to go back to being with my friends to go fishing."
The Palestinian-American teenager and his parents had been in Israel visiting family when his cousin, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, was abducted and burned to death in a retaliatory killing for the three Jewish teenagers who were also murdered.
Tariq had been on a nine-day house arrest after Israeli police handcuffed and beat him following a violent protest in which he said he didn't participate.
"I will never think about freedom in the same way," Tariq said. "I was in a new place and suddenly attacked by masked police. It was by far the scariest thing that has ever happened to me."
"He is a champion. I want him to feel like he's victorious. He didn't do anything wrong," said Hamdi Swelem, Tariq's uncle, who was among the first to greet his nephew at TIA with a message. "You are safe, you are here. Don't worry about it. Everything's going to be okay."
For Tariq and his family the ordeal is over, but for their relatives in Israel, it goes on.
Hassan Shibly, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Tampa, explained what happened after Tariq boarded the plane to come home.
"Just hours later, Tariq's uncle and his cousins had all been picked up and arrested arbitrarily by the Israeli police officers," Shibly said.
FOX 13 has not been able to independently confirm that claim. But several of Tariq's other relatives are still in jail, arrested at the same time as him.
Meantime, Tariq continues to get better: the swelling on his face has lessened, many of his cuts and bruises have healed. But he still has cuts on his arms where police tied his hands together.
His family is worried most about the emotional scars.
"Us adults, when we go through a bad experience, sometimes you can fix yourself. But for a 15-year-old, I don't think that he can by himself," his uncle said.
Tariq's friends promise they will help him continue to heal.
"The fact that now he's back in safety. He doesn't have to worry about anything. He's going to have proper treatment," said Rayan Alnajar, one of Tariq's classmates, adding he was stunned this even happened. "When we first saw the pictures and the videos and what not, we were all shocked. It's a kid we know. He goes to my school. I hang out with him and I couldn't imagine going through what he's going through."
Tariq's family is lining up appointments with various specialists, including a neurologist.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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