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US Marine Missing from Iraq Surfaces in Beirut - 2004-07-08


A U.S. Marine reported missing from Iraq more than two weeks ago has surfaced in Lebanon and is undergoing questioning at the American embassy in Beirut. U.S. officials are providing little information about the case of Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun, who had been earlier reported to have been a prisoner of Iraqi extremists.

The case of Corporal Hassoun has been surrounded in mystery since he disappeared from his Marine unit in Iraq on June 20, and at one point an Islamic website reported he had been taken prisoner by terrorists and beheaded.

But it is now clear that the 24-year-old Lebanese-born Marine found his way to Lebanon and is now at the U.S. embassy in Beirut.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher provided few details of the Corporal's return to U.S. custody but said he initiated contact with the embassy and was retrieved.

"He made contact with us and we arranged for a place to meet, and we went to pick him up and brought him back to the embassy," he said.

Spokesman Boucher said it was unclear how Corporal Hassoun had made the 800 km trip from Iraq to Lebanon, or what the next step in the case might be.

A spokesman for the U.S. Navy, of which the Marine Corps is a part, said the matter is under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

The Marines had said last month that Corporal Hassoun had disappeared from his post in western Iraq on unauthorized leave. But they later changed his status to captured after he was seen on a videotape blindfolded, as another person brandished a sword above his head.

Last Saturday a website linked to Islamic extremists said the American had been beheaded. But subsequent internet statements said he was alive, and he was reported to have later made contact with relatives in Lebanon.

The U.S. broadcast network NBC reported this week that the Navy was investigating whether the apparent abduction might have been a hoax. A Navy spokesman said Thursday that possibility has not been ruled out.

Corporal Hassoun, whose father lives in the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli, was educated in American schools in Lebanon before moving to the western U.S. state of Utah and joining the Marines. He was serving in Iraq as a translator.

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