Sat, Jul 10, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US Marine missing for three weeks shows up in Beirut

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Cairo

People watch as black smoke rises from the market after a street battle in the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Thursday. A gunfight between members of the clan of US Marine Wassef Ali Hassoun and others who taunted the large family as being American collaborators left two people dead and one wounded.

PHOTO: AP

An American Marine reported missing in Iraq three weeks ago has turned up at the American Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, further clouding the already murky circumstances surrounding his disappearance.

Wassef Ali Hassoun, 24, the Lebanese-American Marine who vanished from his base on June 20, arrived Thursday night at the embassy in suburban Aukar accompanied by relatives, said Elizabeth Wharton, the spokeswoman for the embassy.

Contradictory reports about Hassoun, including reports of his beheading at the hands of his captors, have created a confusing picture of what may or may not have happened to him.

His sudden resurfacing Thursday -- and a shootout earlier in the day near his relatives' home in the northern city of Tripoli -- only added to the mystery.

In Washington, Defense Department and Marine Corps officials said Thursday they had scant information about Hassoun, and declined to comment on most aspects of his case pending the outcome of two parallel military investigations.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency are both conducting inquiries into the events surrounding Hassoun's disappearance from his unit. Officials said that naval investigators were looking at a range of possibilities, including that Hassoun was kidnapped, deserted his unit or staged an elaborate hoax with the aid of Iraqi confederates.

Defense officials said they had no details on how he got from his unit in Iraq to Beirut. "The investigation is ongoing, and we don't know how he got there or what went on between the time that he was reported missing from his unit until he got to Lebanon," Brigadier General David Rodriguez, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters at the Pentagon.

Rodriguez said he "came to link up" with personnel at the US Embassy in Beirut, and was not picked up by the military.

Military officials said Hassoun would be flown to an American military hospital in Germany, where he would undergo medical and psychological exams, and be questioned by investigators. Ultimately, he is expected to return to his home base, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina with possibly a brief stopover in Washington.

News reports in Lebanon said members of the extended Hassoun clan had opened fire on the corporal's relatives, condemning them for being American collaborators. Two people died, the reports said, but were not members of the clan.

Tripoli is a stronghold of Sunni Muslim fundamentalists, and anti-American feelings have been running high throughout the Middle East because of American support for Israel and the invasion of Iraq.

Sami Hassoun, the marine's older brother, said, "We have an emergency here," and hung up when reached by telephone. Local reports said members of the 1,000-member clan had blocked the family's street with vehicles.

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