A Lebanese-born U.S. Marine who had been reported captured and beheaded in Iraq was brought alive to the U.S. Embassy in Beirut on Thursday night, but few details about his case were available, U.S. officials said.
Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, 24, a translator with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, arrived at the heavily guarded embassy about 6 p.m., said spokeswoman Elizabeth Wharton. "An embassy vehicle picked him up in Beirut and brought him to the embassy," she said.
The confirmation that Hassoun was at the embassy ended days of uncertainty about his safety and whereabouts, while family members in Lebanon and Utah had refused to confirm or deny reports that he was present in this country.
Hassoun had disappeared from his Marine base near Fallujah on June 19 and later was shown on al-Jazeera satellite television, blindfolded, with a sword hanging over his head. A group calling itself Islamic Response asserted responsibility for his kidnapping and threatened to kill him.
A militant group claiming to be the Ansar al-Sunna Army said on a Web site Saturday that it had beheaded the Marine. But the group said Sunday that it had not issued the statement, and a posting on another Internet site said Hassoun was alive.
On Monday, al-Jazeera reported that it had received a report from Islamic militants saying that Hassoun was in a safe place and had promised to quit the Marines.
On Wednesday, reports surfaced that he was in Lebanon.
At the Pentagon on Thursday, Army Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said officials had little information about Hassoun. "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 into Lebanon," Rodriguez said at a media briefing. "He came to the embassy compound, and under our control, of his own accord."
Hassoun's mother and father, one of his brothers and his new Lebanese wife joined him at the embassy in the Awkar neighborhood of Beirut, according to family members.
"I was so excited, but he's always calm and steady," said a brother, Sami Hassoun, 26. "We shook hands and hugged and kissed."
"He's alive now, he's safe and sound -- that's all I want from God," he added.
But in Tripoli, 50 miles north of Beirut, where Hassoun's family lives, a fight broke out and a relative of Hassoun shot and killed two people and injured a third person, Lebanese officials reported. Other Tripoli residents had accused Hassoun of being a traitor because he left Lebanon and fought with the Marines in Iraq, his brother said.
The family member, Mohamad Said Hassoun, was arrested in the killings, according to internal security forces in Tripoli.
"Everybody here is calling us traitors," Sami Hassoun said. "I think somebody pushed those people to this to try to hurt my family and my relatives. There's no background for these things."
Police were deployed to guard the Hassoun family home, an apartment on the second floor of a six-story building in a low-income area of Tripoli, a witness said. The neighborhood is known as one of the most conservative and religious in northern Lebanon.
Hassoun was raised there and attended American schools in Lebanon until moving to the United States in 1999. He lived with his brothers in Utah for two years and joined the Marines in 2001.
The family's appeals for Hassoun's release had included efforts to establish their credibility as devout Muslims. A spokesman for the family in the United States, Tarek Nosseir, issued statements wishing for Hassoun's safety in the name of God.
Family friends in Lebanon had sought help from Lebanon's Jamaa Islamiya, an Islamic group associated with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, according to the group's deputy leader, Ibrahim Masri.
A week ago, Jamaa Islamiya leaders discussed Hassoun with a delegation of Iraqi Sunni Muslim leaders visiting Beirut, Masri said. The Lebanese group asked the Iraqis to pass on a plea for Hassoun's release to groups that might be holding him hostage, he said.
Masri said his group opposed the kidnapping and killing of Americans in Iraq. "He's not a traitor. No one considers him a traitor," Masri said. "This kind of killing is a crime, not a path to justice."
In the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan, Utah, family members had no comment.
The Hassoun house is in a new subdivision at the foot of the snowcapped Wasatch Range. Neighbors and a Boy Scout troop had covered the front yard with American flags, and reporters camped out on nearby streets awaiting developments.
The U.S. Navy initially termed Hassoun's disappearance "unauthorized leave," but his status was changed a week later, on June 27, when he was shown on television under threat.
Nosseir expressed the family's gratitude when the Marines officially revoked the initial designation and began calling the corporal a captive.
On Wednesday, two investigators from the FBI arrived at the West Jordan home to question Hassoun's relatives. That sparked renewed questions about his disappearance and motives.
Hassoun was reported not to have returned to Utah since joining the Marines. He had been married to an American, but they divorced. His family said he married his new wife, a cousin, by proxy several months ago. His father signed the marriage contract for him, under Islamic law.
Hassoun attended college part time and held a sales job in Utah. At one point, family friends said, his mother and father also lived in West Jordan, but the father returned to Lebanon.
Pentagon officials said they did not know what happened after Hassoun left his unit or why he ended up in Lebanon, but they said investigations would focus on Hassoun's account of the situation.
Rodriguez said Hassoun was not "picked up" by military officials but instead "came to link up" with embassy personnel.
Lawrence Di Rita, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said officials were being guarded about Hassoun's situation.
"I'm saying we don't know and there's no sense speculating, because most of the speculation to this point has been confused," Di Rita said. "He's at the U.S. Embassy compound. He's alive. And those are two things we're very grateful for. And beyond that, we'll have more to say when we have it to say."
Staff writers Josh White in Washington and T.R. Reid in Denver contributed to this report.