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Missing marine at beirut embassy
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Missing Marine Arrives at U.S. Beirut Embassy
Thu Jul 8, 2004 05:26 PM ET
By Nazih Siddiq
TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) - Lebanese-born U.S. Marine Wassef Ali Hassoun, reported at one stage to have been beheaded by militants after going missing in Iraq, was safe at the U.S. embassy in Beirut on Thursday, U.S. officials said.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the 24-year-old corporal, who disappeared from his unit on June 21, had been picked up in Beirut after making contact.
"We were able to go get him this morning," Boucher told reporters in Washington. Other officials said Hassoun seemed to be in good health, but details about him were sketchy.
In another twist to the story, relatives of Hassoun fought a gunbattle with a family who taunted them as U.S. agents in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, witnesses said.
At least two people were killed and several were wounded in the incident, said the witnesses.
The area is a stronghold of deeply religious Sunni Muslims with strong clan ties. Blood feuds among rival families are not uncommon.
In Beirut, U.S. embassy spokeswoman Elizabeth Wharton said Hassoun had been accompanied by relatives to the heavily fortified U.S. complex in the hills overlooking the Lebanese capital's coastline.
"REPATRIATION A PRIORITY"
"The priority will be on repatriation back to the U.S., but as for the schedule I'll leave that to the Defense Department," said Wharton.
A defense official at the Pentagon said: "We're working through the details of what the next steps are."
Hassoun joined the U.S. military after emigrating to the United States from Lebanon four years ago.
Statements on Internet sites used by Islamists said he had been taken hostage and then beheaded, but his family -- who urged his captors to spare him as an Arab and Muslim -- said this week he had been released and was safe.
The U.S. military has declined to comment on media reports that Hassoun deserted from his unit, but a Marine Corps spokesman said a criminal investigation into Hassoun's disappearance was under way. He gave no details.
Hassoun, a linguist from the First Marine Expeditionary Force, also has family in West Jordan, Utah.
Conflicting statements by different groups on the Internet fueled confusion over his fate while he was missing.
Lebanon's Foreign Ministry at one point confirmed reports of his death before withdrawing its statement.
Later, an Islamist group said he had been moved to safety after pledging to leave the U.S. military. (Additional reporting by Saul Hudson in Washington and Fiona O'Brien in Beirut)
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