Questions Remain Unexplored About Farris Hassan's Excellent Iraqi Adventure

Sometimes a story just doesn't seem to be "all there." Cinnamon Stillwell suspected as much in a NewsBusters item on January 10:
Call me overly suspicious, but the story of 16-year-old Farris Hassan traveling to Iraq on a whim strikes me as unbelievable.

Hassan's interview with Rita Cosby of MSNBC, a Florida newspaper columnist's skepticism, and a January 18 posting by the Northeast Intelligence Network (NIN), which describes itself as "a small contingent of experienced investigators ..... founded by veteran private investigator Douglas J. Hagmann," all appear to confirm Stillwell's suspicions. What is known of Farris Hassan's saga at this point should also, one would think, raise some red flags with Homeland Security.

First, the NIN entry:

Farris HASSAN, the 16-year-old Pine Crest student from Fort Lauderdale who left he comforts of his $4 million family home on December 11 for Iraq, claimed that he made the trip to put is lessons of his “immersion journalism” class into practice, and selected Iraq out of humanitarian concerns or the Iraqi people.

..... With all of the reporters covering the story, however, it appears that no one did any research into the background of the Hassan family, or made any attempts to verify the young man’s story. If they had, they might have been compelled to ask some very basic – but extremely important questions.

Even the most basic research found that Farris Hassan was NOT enrolled in any journalism class at Pine Crest, which should automatically cast doubt on the true nature of his journey. ..... Also, the school confirmed that the boy’s father, Dr. Redha Hassan not only knew of his son’s intended travels, but authorized his absence, which is inconsistent with his initial public statements.

Further, investigation found a number of other inconsistencies in the public statements made by Dr. Redha Hassan. Although it was initially reported that neither parent knew of the young boy’s intended travels, it was ultimately revealed that Dr. Hassan actually assisted his son. He admitted that he arranged for his son's flight into Baghdad through his political connections, even though he knew the grave risks to “foreigners” wandering the streets of Baghdad. [According to a January 2, 2005 CNN news story, Hassan's father said that he had helped his son get a visa into Iraq from Beirut. The elder Hassan said he was leaving Iraq himself when the teen called, unable to get into the country from Kuwait. He told him to go to Lebanon and said he spoke with him almost daily].

Perhaps most importantly, research and investigation into Dr. Redha Hassan found that he was arrested by the FBI in 1985 for forging 2000 Iraqi passports and military I.D. cards and seeking to forge 2,000 more. Dr. Hassan asked his next-door-neighbor and print store owner Joel Feinstein to make the passports and IDs. According to Feinstein, Dr. Hassan claimed the documents were for his family in Iraq. Feinstein reported the request to the FBI, and became an operational asset for the federal government, leading to Hassan’s arrest. Also arrested were two of Farris's uncles and a "pro-Khomeini" activist identified as Salah Jawad Shubber. Interestingly, Dr. Hassan, who also went by the name Redha K. Alsawaf, was also the President of the now defunct Florida non-profit organization World Orphanage & Refugee Relief Foundation at the time of his arrest. Authorities dropped the charges against Hassan, and Shubber ultimately pled guilty to conspiracy charges.

Farris Hassan’s initial stop was Amsterdam, Netherlands, where he claims that he bought a ticket on KLM Airlines. From Amsterdam, Hassan headed to Kuwait City, where he alleges that he tried to cross the Kuwait-Iraq border twice by taxi, but was turned away due to Iraqi elections. At that point, it appears that Hassan sought assistance from his father, who told Farris to travel to Beirut and stay with family friends. Obligingly, Farris spent ten days in Beirut, and while there, met with a media relations officer of the terrorist group Hezbollah at their Central Press Office. This meeting was arranged through the assistance of his hosts – the family’s friends.

Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim organization based in Lebanon and tied to Iran. They have a significant presence in Iraq, and an army that is resolved to drive the Americans out of Iraq. Given the family history, the inconsistencies and the public contradictions, could it be that Hassan was going to Iraq to join Hezbollah to fight against the "American occupation?" Perhaps those are the questions that need to be asked.

The CNN story that NIN appears to be referring to ("Dad helped Florida teen get Iraq visa") states that:
Hassan's father, Redha Hassan, a medical doctor, told CNN that he had helped his son get a visa into Iraq from Beirut. The elder Hassan said he was leaving Iraq himself when the teen called, unable to get into the country from Kuwait. He told him to go to Lebanon and said he spoke with him almost daily.

When asked why he helped, Hassan said his son had come so far by the time he called that he couldn't see not helping him.

A lengthy January 12 report by Bob Norman in The Broward-Palm Beach New Times contains essentially the same troubling elements brought up in the NIN post. Norman also notes an MSNBC interview Farris Hassan gave, in which, per Norman, "he basically admitted that his father knew about his travel plans and offered that, while in Lebanon, he'd visited the offices of the Islamist group Hezbollah, which has carried out countless terrorist acts."

Indeed, in that MSNBC interview, Farris told Rita Cosby that "My dad did not have complete knowledge of all the specific of my plannings, but he knew a bit more than my mother." He also noted that he met with Hezbollah officials for at least two hours.

It is clear that the story of "Farris Hassan's Excellent Adventure" has at a minimum become a lot less believable, and that a little more questioning and digging by the Mainstream press might find more -- if they care to explore the possibility that they were duped.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.