Fri, Jul 16, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Lebanese Marine going home

REPATRIATION A Lebanese-born US Marine who disappeared and was thought killed will be investigated to determine if he was in fact taken hostage in Iraq

REUTERS , Washington

A Lebanese-born US Marine who resurfaced last week in Beirut after disappearing under mysterious circumstances in Iraq said on Wednesday he was in "good health and spirits" as he left a US hospital in Germany before a scheduled return to the US.

Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun was expected to fly from Ramstein Air Base to the US today bound for a Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, about 56 km south of Washington, Major Tim Keefe, a Marine spokesman traveling with Hassoun said.

Major Nat Fahy, a Marine Corps spokesman at the Penta-gon, said Hassoun's "repatriation" process will continue at Quantico, after which he will be questioned by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and others.

Investigators will look into whether he was abducted by militants in Iraq, whether the abduction was a hoax or whether Hassoun was deserting the US military, Fahy said.

"Nothing is being ruled out," Fahy said.

After Hassoun's disappearan-ce, he was seen in a videotape blindfolded with a sword poised over his head. A militant group later claimed to have beheaded him.

After leaving Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Ger-many, Hassoun released his first public comment since turning up at the US Embassy in the Lebanese capital on July 8 after disappearing from his unit in Iraq three weeks earlier.

"I am in good health and spirits. I look forward to my return home to friends and family," Hassoun said in the statement read by Keefe.

"I am happy to have completed this phase of my repatriation. The people here at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center have treated me very well, but I am excited to be going home," Hassoun said.

"All thanks and praise are due to God for my safety. I am also very thankful for all the kind wishes, support and prayers for me and my family from my fellow Marines, all the people in the US, Lebanon and around the world," he said.

Hassoun ended the statement with the Marine Corps motto "Semper Fidelis," which trans-lates to "always faithful."

Hassoun had been scheduled to fly back to the US on Wednesday, but the flight was postponed a day due to aircraft mechanical problems, officials said.

An Iraqi militant group called the Islamic Response Movement said it freed Hassoun because he pledged to quit the US armed forces and urged other soldiers to do the same to escape their "predicament" in Iraq. There was no independent verification of this account.

Hassoun underwent a debriefing process at Landstuhl, although details were not made available.

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