Tariq Khedeir on his arrival at Tampa International Airport..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Seven months after drawing international headlines when his videotaped police beating and arrest during an east Jerusalem riot went viral, the American cousin of slain Arab teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the case.
The US Consulate in Jerusalem on Tuesday said all charges against Tariq Abu Khdeir, 15, of Tampa, Florida, for his alleged role in the July riot had been dropped, allowing him to return to Jerusalem to visit his family.
On the day of his July arrest, police claimed Khdeir was masked, armed and actively participating in rioting against officers during a violent demonstration in northeast Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood the day before his cousin’s funeral.
Muhammad’s badly burned corpse had been found in the Jerusalem Forest shortly after he was kidnapped in Beit Hanina by three Israeli extremists in an apparent revenge slaying for the June kidnapping and murders of three yeshiva students in Gush Etzion.
The murder set off months of rioting in the capital.
While police alleged Khdeir was an armed and active participant in the riot, he and his family repeatedly denied direct involvement. Nonetheless, after being treated at an area hospital for multiple wounds to his face and torso, the teen was placed under house arrest until he was permitted to leave Israel on July 17.
After the video drew international condemnation, a Justice Ministry investigation into his treatment by police quickly followed, resulting in the suspension of the two arresting officers seen brutally pummeling him while he was face-down on the ground.
In September, one of the officers was indicted, although the status of the charges remain unclear.
On Monday, Khdeir expressed relief that the charges against him had been dropped and that he could return.
“I was happy to learn that Israel has closed my make-believe case. The whole world now knows that I was beaten, arrested and detained even though I hadn’t done anything wrong,” he said during a interview with The Tampa Tribune.
“God let me get another chance,” he continued. “I could have been murdered; I could have never had another chance to live. But now that I have another chance to live I want to make something out of it.”
Meanwhile, Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the Israeli government had communicated the decision to clear Khdeir with the US State Department.
Shibly added that his organization would continue to pursue legal action against both officers, adding that a trip had been scheduled for Khdeir to meet with members of Congress and the Senate.
“I think this is just the beginning,” Shibly said. “We need to ensure that the officers who engaged in the brutal attack are brought to justice.... I think it is important to challenge that kind of environment that could allow such an atrocious attack to happen.”
Khdeir, a high school sophomore, told the paper that he intended to return to Jerusalem this summer to attend the wedding of a relative.