A U.S. Marine kidnapped in Iraq was reported today to have been freed by his captors, but there was no information on his whereabouts or confirmation that he had been spared a previously threatened beheading.
A brother of Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, a 24-year-old Muslim of Lebanese origin who has been missing since June 19, said today in Lebanon that Hassoun was "alive" and had been "released."
The brother, Sami Hassoun, said he knew this because a "sign" had been communicated to the family. He refused to explain what the sign was or who conveyed it, but he indicated that it was a piece of information that only his brother could know and that it assured the family that Hassoun was alive.
"He's alive and he's released and thank God for that," Sami Hassoun told CNN from Tripoli, Lebanon. "The sign came to us, we are sure of it."
In Baghdad, a senior U.S. military official said of Hassoun, "It is our understanding that the group has released him." But he said Americans have not had any contact with Hassoun since the purported release, and he had no information on the Marine's whereabouts.
Hours after Sami Hassoun announced that his brother had been freed, a Lebanese government official said the kidnappers had released Hassoun after he pledged that he would not return to the U.S. military, the Associated Press reported.
Hassoun was working as a translator for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at a base near Fallujah when he was reported missing.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said last week that Hassoun was on "an unauthorized absence" at the time of his disappearance.
Hassoun's relatives in Lebanon and Utah had pleaded with his captors to spare his life as a fellow Muslim. His father, Ali Hassoun, a resident of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, and his brothers contacted Muslim groups in Iraq and Lebanon in efforts to obtain his release.
A group calling itself Islamic Response threatened last month to behead Hassoun if the U.S. military in Iraq did not release all its prisoners. A videotape broadcast by the Arabic al-Jazeera network on June 27 showed Hassoun blindfolded beneath a sword that one of his captors held above his head.
On Saturday, a group called the Ansar al-Sunna Army asserted on two Web sites that it had "slaughtered" Hassoun and said it would soon release video to prove it. The group said Hassoun had been lured into captivity through a romantic relationship with an Arab woman.
On Sunday, however, the Ansar al-Sunna Army denied that it had issued the previous statements claiming responsibility for Hassoun's murder.
It was not immediately possible to ascertain the authenticity of any of the statements, and Hassoun's fate remained uncertain.
A group calling itself Ansar al-Sunna has claimed responsibility for a number of suicide bombings in Iraq. It is believed to be an offshoot of Ansar al-Islam, a radical Muslim group that operated in a Kurdish area of northern Iraq and had ties to the al Qaeda terrorist network.