American Teen Released from Jail After Alleged Beating by Israeli Police

PHOTO: Tariq Abu Khdeir, 15, a U.S. citizen who goes to school in Florida, is shown being beaten by Israeli soldiers in this image taken from video, prior to his arrest in the Shuafat neighborhood of Jerusalem.PlayABC News
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A 15-year-old American high school student who says he was brutally assaulted by Israeli police was released by a Jerusalem court today after being held without charges since his arrest on Thursday.

A video clip aired by Palestinian television shows two Israeli police officers appearing to viciously beat Tariq Abu Khdeir, a rising sophomore from Tampa, Florida. They repeatedly stomp and punch his head, even as the body hangs motionless.

The police have not denied it is their men beating Abu Khdeir. A spokesman told ABC News the teen was part of a small group participating in clashes with armed police, covering his face with a keffiyeh (Palestinian scarf) and attacking officers while resisting arrest.

“I was watching [the clashes], I was just watching,” Abu Khdeir told ABC News shortly after his release, his face still bruised and swollen from the assault.

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“I was actually brutally attacked from the side. I heard somebody screaming and he came and attacked me and I actually went unconscious, and I woke up in the hospital," said Abu Khdeir. "I was screaming, I was just screaming when they hit me."

Abu Khdeir was released on an $850 bail, ordered to be placed under house arrest and not allowed to return to the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat where he was staying with family and where the incident took place. The family plans to return to the U.S. on the 16th with Tariq, as long as the investigation has been completed.

It was in Shuafat on Wednesday morning that Abu Khdeir’s cousin, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was abducted before dawn prayers and later found murdered. The Palestinian attorney general said the autopsy showed that he was burned alive.

On Sunday, Israeli authorities said “a number of Jews were arrested in connection with the murder,” according to Israeli radio, appearing to confirm the widespread belief that the abductors were extremist Israelis. Muhammad’s murder came just two days after the bodies of three Israeli teens were discovered near the West Bank city of Hebron, killings Israel blames on the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Tariq Abu Khdeir was on a summer holiday with his parents and sisters in Jerusalem, visiting family in the eastern part of the city. His father is from Shuafat, and he emigrated to Baltimore in 1996 where Tariq’s mother was born and raised.

“He just loved it because I have him on a leash in America,” Abu Khdeir’s mother told ABC News on Saturday. “Here, all his cousins are around. Like, literally every house that’s next to us is a cousin, and we’re safe, he felt safe here.”

Their visit comes amid some of the worst tension in years. Ignited by the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the three Israeli teens last month, the Israeli government has responded to with a heavy-handed crackdown against Hamas in the West Bank. At the same time, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have increased their rocket attacks on southern Israel, firing around 130 rockets and mortars, according to the Israeli military, which has carried out precision air strikes in Gaza, including ten overnight.

"We are working on several fronts simultaneously,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the opening of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting. “Overnight we were active against many Hamas targets in Gaza and the goal of all of our operations is to restore quiet and security to all of Israel's citizens, especially the residents of the south.”

The U.S. State Department called for a speedy investigation into the incident, saying in a statement: "We are profoundly troubled by reports that [Abu Khdeir] was severely beaten while in police custody and strongly condemn any excessive use of force."