An American Marine missing from duty in Iraq since last month and who had earlier been reported executed has mysteriously surfaced at the U.S. embassy in Lebanon. In Iraq itself, at least five American soldiers have been killed in more insurgent attacks just a day after the Baghdad government gave itself new powers to deal with the on-going unrest.
The fate of Lebanese-American Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun had been a mystery, until Thursday. He disappeared from his base in Iraq last month and was initially reported to have been beheaded after Islamic websites posted a photo of him with a knife above his head and being held by militants. But just days later, the Marine was reported alive and in a safe location even having contacted family members.
With his disappearance now the target of a criminal investigation, U.S. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters the corporal is now at the American embassy in Beirut.
"He made contact with us and arranged for a place to meet and we went to pick him up and brought him back to the embassy," said Mr. Boucher.
Whether he's been detained for questioning or just being cared for is not known. Nor is how he made it from Iraq to Lebanon and whether he deserted his unit or was abducted as initially claimed. In Tripoli, Lebanon, several people were reported killed Thursday after violent clashes broke out between groups for and against the Lebanese-American's decision to join the American military and fight in Iraq.
There, the U.S. military says five American soldiers and several Iraqi guardsmen were killed when they came under heavy mortar fire at an Iraqi National Guard post in the Sunni stronghold of Sumarra. This, shortly after a U.S. military convoy was targeted by a roadside bomb.
As men in Samarra chant support for Saddam Hussein, reports say American soldiers returned fire from the ground and air, while moving through the streets to flush out rebels, whose attacks have not ended with last month's handing of political power back to Iraqis. Samarra residents speak of fierce battles with American led troops who have moved in with tanks, helicopters and Humvees to subdue what has been a hotbed of unrest.
And, in what could be another setback to Iraq's reconstruction, the Philippine government has decided to bar contract workers from taking jobs in Iraq following the reported capture of a Filipino contractor threatened with death unless the Manila government withdraws its 50 troops from the country.
Thousands of Philippine contractors already hold reconstruction-related civilian jobs in Iraq. More than 100 additional Filipino workers got the word from their government Thursday that they would not be going to the country.