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Missing Marine May Be in Lebanon, US Officials Say - 2004-07-08

U.S. Embassy officials in Lebanon say missing U.S. Marine corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun could be in Lebanon.

Three weeks of contacts with members of Corporal Hassoun's family and others in Lebanon have led to what U.S. Public Affairs Officer Elizabeth Wharton calls credible information that the missing U.S. Marine is in the country. But she stresses the information has yet to be confirmed.

"We have been in contact with a range of people over this whole three weeks since he originally went missing, and in that process we've had a lot of confidential conversations I can't discuss," she said. "The embassy has been in ongoing contact with his family as is standard practice in any case where an American citizen is missing or is in any kind of duress."

Since the 24-year-old Lebanese born U.S. Marine disappeared more than two weeks ago in Iraq there have been conflicting reports about his location. On Monday, an Iraqi militant group said it was holding the Marine in a safe place. On Saturday, a website known for militant Islamic statements said Corporal Hassoun, a Muslim, had been beheaded.

He was assigned as a translator with a Marine unit in Iraq. To get to Lebanon, he would have to have traveled about 600 kilometers through Iraq and Syria.

Corporal Hassoun was educated at American schools in Lebanon before moving to the United States four years ago and joining the marines. His family, in the U.S. state of Utah, said on Tuesday it had news he had been released and was safe, but family members did not know where he was.

Elizabeth Wharton, the U.S. Public Affairs officer in Beirut, would not speculate on what steps would be taken if it is confirmed that Corporal Hassoun is indeed in Lebanon.

"We are focused right now on simply determining whether he is indeed here, and beyond that I cannot speculate on what will happen after that," she said.

Various reports in Lebanese media have suggested that Corporal Hassoun had fled his military camp near the Iraqi flashpoint town of Fallujah, after seeing one of his colleagues get killed. Senior U.S. commanders have also said they believe he may have deserted, or been lured into leaving the base, before he disappeared.