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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 20:43 GMT 21:43 UK
Missing US marine free in Beirut
Cpl Wassef Ali Hassoun in a video broadcast Sunday 27 June
Hassoun is said to be safe and healthy
The missing Lebanese-born US marine who was allegedly kidnapped in Iraq is in Beirut, US officials have said.

Cpl Wassef Ali Hassoun, 24, who went missing on 21 June, is now safe at the US embassy in the Lebanese capital.

Cpl Hassoun's disappearance has been mired in confusion - last weekend he was reported to have been beheaded by his Islamist captors.

Earlier this week, his brother said the family had received word that the militants had freed him.

"He is safe. He appears to be healthy. We're working through the details of what the next steps are," a US defence department official told Reuters news agency.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the marine had been picked up on Thursday morning after he contacted the embassy.

Meanwhile fears are growing for the safety of a Filipino hostage, the latest victim of a spate of kidnappings in Iraq.

14 April: Fabrizio Quattrocchi, 36, Italian security guard is shot dead
11 May: Nick Berg, 26, US businessman is beheaded
22 June: Kim Sun-il, 33, South Korean translator is beheaded
29 June: Keith Maupin, 20, US soldier is reportedly killed (not confirmed)

But as news came that Cpl Hassoun was safe there were reports of a gunbattle in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli between members of his family and another which apparently accused them of being US collaborators.

At least two people were killed in the clashes, according to local officials.

This area of the country is renowned both for the regularity of blood feuds between rival families and for being a Sunni Muslim stronghold.

Conflicting reports

Last Saturday, an internet posting purporting to be from the militant group Ansar al-Sunna said Cpl Hassoun had been beheaded. But the organisation later denied the report.

Instead of beheading him they said that because the 23-year old linguist was a Muslim originally from Lebanon who had promised to leave the American military he would be released. The Arabic TV station al-Jazeera on Monday quoted an Iraqi group - Islamic Response - as saying that Cpl Hassoun had been moved to a safe place.

On Tuesday, the missing marine's family said they had been visited at their home in northern Lebanon by someone bringing reliable information that he was alive and free.

Cpl Hassoun in an undated family photo
Hassoun is fluent in Arabic, French and English
Cpl Hassoun is thought to have called the embassy asking to be picked up from an undisclosed location in Lebanon.

There are several theories about his disappearance, including the possibility that the reported kidnapping was a hoax.

The marines have launched a criminal investigation and although they will not say what crime he is alleged to have committed, they have said that his absence from duty is an issue.

It is unclear how Cpl Hassoun was able to get from Iraq to Lebanon. He would have had to travel 800km, much of it across Syrian territory.

The BBC's Pentagon correspondent, Nick Childs, says that while US officials are saying there is no reason as yet to doubt his capture, Cpl Hassoun will be extensively debriefed, as well as undergoing medical and psychological examinations.

Cpl Hassoun was born in Lebanon, educated at American schools there and then joined the US marines after moving to Utah four years ago.

The 24-year-old is fluent in Arabic, French and English and was reportedly serving as a translator in his second stint in Iraq when he was captured.

The BBC's Paul Adams
"No-one really knows how he got here from Iraq"

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