An American teen who skipped school to travel to Iraq by himself apologized to the U.S. military for causing it a “tremendous amount of trouble” and said he fears that others may try to copy his dangerous journey into a war zone.
Farris Hassan, speaking to MSNBC in an interview to be aired Monday, also said he interviewed a member of Hezbollah in Lebanon and would change his persona when he met different people during is much-publicized sojourn to the Middle East last month.
Hassan, 16, went to The Associated Press bureau in Baghdad, which contacted the U.S. embassy. He arrived home from Iraq on Jan. 1 and returned to his prep school in Fort Lauderdale.
“I have seen many a headline stating “Farris Hassan’s Week Off,” the teen told the cable network. “I am worried that with the media coverage they may have glorified what I did. And I will feel so guilty if some copycats go to Iraq and cause the military all kinds of trouble. And God forbid one of them gets their heads cut off.”
Hassan said he felt “sheepish” because of all the assistance he received from the U.S. military, which helped keep him safe after he made his presence in Iraq known.
“They had to divert resources and all kinds of stuff. They have a war to run. They don’t need to be dealing with kids running off to Iraq,” he said.
“I want to apologize for all the inconvenience I caused them, and I want to sincerely thank all the soldiers who risked their lives trying to get me out of Iraq and keep me safe.”
Hassan said his mother had no idea he was leaving to Iraq, and that he felt guilty for the “grief I have caused my family.” The teen said his father didn’t know all of his plans but that “he knew a bit more than my mother.”
Hassan skipped school when he began his travels Dec. 11. He was able to secure an entry visa for Iraq because his parents were born there, although they have lived in the United States for more than three decades. He didn’t tell his family what he was doing until he arrived in Kuwait, where he planned to take a taxi into Baghdad for the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.
With the Iraqi border closed for the voting, Hassan stayed with family friends in Lebanon until he could fly into Baghdad on Dec. 25.
He contacted The Associated Press bureau in Baghdad on Dec. 27 and related his story. Hassan said he had recently studied immersion journalism – in which a writer lives the life of his subject – and wanted to understand better what Iraqis are living through.
He said he landed an interview a Hezbollah media relations officer for about two hours in Beirut, asking him about the Iraq war and Lebanese politics.
“I had to travel through alleyways … in the southern Shiite section of Beirut, the poorest section,” he said. “So walking through alleyways, going up crooked staircases with bullet holes in the walls. And there was no sign saying, this is the Hezbollah office, of course not.”
Hassan realized he was in a dangerous situation a number of times. He said he would hear explosions and gunfire in Baghdad, and people looked at him funny when he took out his “Arabic at a Glance” guidebook in a restaurant.
But he said he wasn’t frightened and would try to fit in as much as possible during his trip.
“Well, with each group I immersed myself, I changed my persona,” he said. “When I was with the Christians, I told them I was a Lebanese Christian – an American Christian with Lebanese parents and that my name was Jason.
“And when I met with the Hezbollah leader, I gave him the impression that I wanted to paint Hezbollah in a good light when I returned to the United States.”
However, Hassan criticized his own work as a journalist.
“In fact, I think I did a pretty poor job as an emergent journalist,” he said. “Normally, an emergent journalist would learn the language and spend probably a year in the country and have several connections.
“I am taking English 3 AP, so my teacher never expected me to do anything like this and they do not bear – no one bears any responsibility for my actions expect for me.”