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Marine's family denies he deserted Iraq post prior to abduction

SALT LAKE CITY -- The brother of missing Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun denied reports that the Marine had deserted the military before being captured by insurgents in Iraq.

"To me it has no foundation. It's all wrong," Mohammad Hassoun told the Associated Press Tuesday night.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the coalition deputy operations chief in Baghdad, said earlier this week that Hassoun had gone "on an unauthorized absence," but provided few details.

"Based on his personal situation, there was reason to suspect that he was heading over to Lebanon," where Hassoun was born, Kimmitt said.

Yesterday, The New York Times, citing a Marine officer it did not identify, reported that Hassoun had deserted the military with the help of Iraqis on the base, and was apparently given to insurgents by those he had befriended.

An insurgent group has threatened to behead Hassoun unless Iraqi prisoners are released. Hassoun was shown blindfolded with a sword brandished over his head in a video aired on Al-Jazeera television.

The military officially changed its classification of Hassoun's disappearance from "missing" to "captured" on Tuesday. He was last seen about a week before the videotape was broadcast Sunday, the military said.

"The circumstances surrounding the Marine's absence initially indicated that he was missing," a statement by the First Marine Expeditionary Force said. "However, in light of what we have observed on the terrorists' video, we have classified him as captured."

Captain Amy Malugani, spokeswoman for the First Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton, declined to comment on the report Tuesday. She also would not say what steps the Marines were taking to rescue Hassoun.

The Times reported that Hassoun had been shaken after seeing one of his sergeants killed.

In Baghdad, a senior US military official said Hassoun was missed after he failed to report for duty on June 20.

"It is highly unlikely that he was taken," the official said, on condition of anonymity. "We are investigating all possible circumstances that could have led to his failure to report to duty."

Three Marine Corps representatives visited the Hassoun family in West Jordan on Tuesday, the same day military officials declared he had been abducted.

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