Tariq Abu Khdeir and his cousin, Muhammed Abu Khdeir — one a Palestinian born in Baltimore and the other a Palestinian living in Jerusalem — got to know each other on Facebook in anticipation of a family wedding and a monthlong family reunion in Israel.
"It was a summer break," said an aunt, Fatima Abu Khdeir of Baltimore, on Sunday. "It was fun. They were excited." The family, now living in Tampa, Fla., wasn't there "looking to fight."
But the boys were caught in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in recent days — in two high-profile bursts of violence that have sparked rocket attacks in the Mideast and a call from Washington for an investigation. Muhammed was kidnapped and burned alive Wednesday in an apparent retaliatory killing. His American cousin was beaten badly and arrested at a protest Thursday leading up to the funeral, an incident captured in a video that went viral on the Internet.
Tariq was the last to see his cousin alive, according to security video, before he was bundled into a car by two men. Ninety minutes later, Muhammed's body was found on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Video taken the following day shows a boy — the family says they recognized Tariq's T-shirt — being beaten into unconsciousness before being dragged off by Israeli police.
Fatima Abu Khdeir, who has been in touch with relatives by phone, said the family is anxious to return to the United States where Tariq can receive medical care. "His back was not broken, thank God," she said. "But we are worried about internal bleeding."
The boys — Tariq is 15, Muhammed was 16 — were inseparable, family members say, while Tariq's mother, father and two younger sisters reconnected with relatives in the East Jerusalem village of Shuafat, and they were together outside a neighborhood mosque early Wednesday morning before prayers.
Just before dawn, Tariq and Muhammed can be seen in the security video sitting on a wall outside the mosque. Tariq headed toward the mosque to pray while Muhammed finished a cigarette, said Tariq's aunt, who lives in Canton, where her family owns the House of Spirits. "Not two minutes," she said.
Tariq heard shouting and looked back, she said, and Muhammed was being pushed into a car by two men. An autopsy later showed that he had been burned alive. His death was thought to be in retribution for the deaths of three Israeli teens who were killed while hiking in the West Bank last month.
Israeli officials announced Sunday that they had arrested six suspects in Muhammed's killing. In the meantime, Israeli and Palestinian forces traded rocket attacks.
As Muhammed's funeral neared, a protest erupted and police were pelted with stones. His family says Tariq was a spectator. The Israeli authorities said he was armed with a slingshot.
Video shows two Israeli border police holding down and pummeling a masked youth before carrying him away. It shows more than 20 blows being delivered over two minutes. There are no signs of resistance and his limp body is then dragged away. Two separate videos of the beating have surfaced showing the same sequence of events.
Tariq's family said he was the target of the punches, although the footage is blurred and the victim cannot be identified as he appears to be wearing a head covering. His family said they recognized the T-shirt he was wearing. Photos taken later show Tariq's face distorted by swelling and bruising, with a black eye and a badly swollen mouth.
"Nothing that an 85-pound teenage boy could do at a protest would warrant that kind of response," said Zainab Chaudry, head of Maryland outreach for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Tariq had resisted arrest, had attacked police officers and had a slingshot in his possession. He was arrested along with six other youths, some armed with knives, Rosenfeld said.
After an arraignment Sunday, Tariq, who is a sophomore in high school in Tampa, where his parents own a restaurant, was released on house arrest for nine days — the length of the remaining family vacation — but family members and CAIR want him returned to home to Tampa immediately for the medical care they say he did not receive in the Israeli jail.
Tariq's mother, Suha Abu Khdeir, told CNN that the boy was guilty of simply being a Palestinian in a Palestinian neighborhood. "He didn't have to throw rocks," she said.
The Israeli Justice Ministry said it will investigate the videotaped beating.
As a result of the increasing tension, Israel aircraft attacked 10 sites in the Gaza Strip on Sunday in response to rocket attacks.
U.S. State Department officials expressed concern at the beating. The United States has also called for an investigation of the incident.
"We are profoundly troubled by reports that he was severely beaten while in police custody and strongly condemn any excessive use of force. We are calling for a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
CAIR's Chaudry said her group hopes to meet Monday with members of Congress or officials in the State Department .
In Washington on Saturday, at a White House rally to protest the retaliatory treatment of Palestinians by Israeli police and soldiers, aunts, uncles and cousins of the two boys who were suddenly at the center of an international storm took the microphone for emotional speeches, including Fatima Abu Khdeir, who said she was the first to hold Tariq when he was born in Baltimore.
"I felt the support and I felt good because we have some American people there in support for us. I feel bad for every mother on both sides losing their kids this way."
Tariq is like her son, she said, adding that her own son, Noor, and Tariq were raised like brothers during the first five years of their lives when Tariq lived in Baltimore.
"We were breaking the fast [of Ramadan] when I told him what had happened to Tariq. He turned his face away and got the tear in his eye," Fatima said. "There was big silence on his face.
"My heart drops for these boys."
Reuters contributed to this article.
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