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Brother says missing Marine in Iraq freed
Updated: 2004-07-07 10:35

The family of Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun said Tuesday they had received word that the Lebanese-born U.S. Marine — who was kidnapped in Iraq and at one point was reported beheaded — was free and well.

A Lebanese government official also said Hassoun was released, though his whereabouts were unknown. The kidnappers freed the 24-year-old Marine after he pledged not to return to the U.S. military, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A television image aired by Al Jazeera on June 27, 2004 shows a blindfolded man dressed in camouflage believed to be US Marine Wassef Ali Hassoun sitting in a chair with a hand holding a sword above his head. A militant group said on July 3, 2004, it had beheaded U.S. Marine Wassef Ali Hassoun after kidnapping him in Iraq and was holding another "infidel" hostage. [Reuters]
The two statements were positive signals for Hassoun's relatives in Lebanon and the United States, who have seen their hopes rise and plummet amid contradictory Internet messages by Iraqi militants over Marine's fate.

The U.S. military initially said Hassoun was absent without authorization since June 20. They later said he was "captured."

Hassoun's brother in the north Lebanese city of Tripoli said Tuesday he is confident his brother is free, although he has not spoken to him.

"We have received reliable information the guy is free," Sami Hassoun told The Associated Press. "We received a sign from my brother reassuring us."

Sami Hassoun said the family had received credible information from a person who came to their Tripoli home. The person, whom he did not identify, did not say where the Marine was, Sami Hassoun said.

Since Cpl. Hassoun's abduction, the family in Tripoli — where his father Ali lives — has been in touch with politicians and Muslim clerics in Lebanon and Islamic groups in Iraq to try to secure the Marine's release.

Foreign Ministry officials in Beirut said that Lebanese diplomats in Iraq had told them Hassoun is alive. They gave no further details.

On Saturday, a militant group calling itself the Ansar al-Sunna Army claimed on a Web site that it had beheaded Hassoun and promised to release a video to prove it.

The video never emerged, and in a statement posted on another Web site, the group said Sunday it did not issue the statement about Hassoun being beheaded.

On Monday, a group calling itself "Islamic Response" told Al-Jazeera television that Hassoun was safe at an undisclosed location. It claimed Hassoun had promised not to return to the American military.

The statement was issued in the same name used in the original kidnapping claim — a June 27 video that showed Hassoun blindfolded with a sword brandished over his head. The group calls itself "Islamic Response," the security wing of the "National Islamic Resistance — 1920 Revolution Brigades." The name refers to an uprising against the British after World War I.

Another insurgent group on Tuesday said it had kidnapped an Egyptian truck driver, releasing a video to the al-Jazeera television station. The group calls itself the "Iraqi Legitimate Resistance." The man identified himself as Alsayeid Mohammed Alsayeid Algarabawi. He was captured while driving a fuel truck for U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia, the group said.

In West Jordan, Utah, home of Cpl. Hassoun's eldest brother, Mohammed, family spokesman Tarek Nosseir said after Monday's statement, "We pray that the news of his safe release is true."

There were no signs of activity Tuesday at the Hassoun's home in the Salt Lake City suburb. The blinds of the house were drawn, and about 30 American flags and a Marine flag were planted in the lawn.

Hassoun's alleged captors have claimed he was romantically involved with an Arab woman and was lured away from his Marine base and captured.

A Marine spokesman in Washington said they were pursuing all angles in the investigation.

"Clearly any information that comes available is of extreme interest to us as we pursue the investigation," said Capt. Dan McSweeney, a Marine spokesman.

The New York Times, citing a Marine officer who spoke on condition of anonymity, reported Hassoun had been traumatized after seeing one of his sergeants killed by an explosive and was trying to make his way back to Lebanon. The officer told the paper Hassoun had sought the help of Iraqis at his military base, but was betrayed and handed over to extremists.

Mohammed Hassoun has denied the Times report.

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