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MISSING CORPORAL

Marine accused of 2004 desertion fails again to report for duty

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Marine charged with desertion after he claimed to have been kidnapped last year in Iraq was again declared a deserter yesterday after he failed to return from a holiday leave.

Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun was required to return to Camp Lejeune by noon Tuesday, but did not report for duty in a motor pool, said Major Matt Morgan, a spokesman for the Fourth Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

Hassoun was still missing at 3 p.m. yesterday, Morgan said.

Hassoun's command "officially declared him a deserter and issued authorization for civil authorities to apprehend Hassoun and return him to military control," Morgan said.

Mazen Hassoun, the corporal's brother, said from his West Jordan, Utah, home that he was surprised by the latest accusation. He said he had not heard from his brother but was awaiting a call from him.

Corporal Hassoun was listed as missing in Iraq after he failed to report for duty last June 20. A week later, the Arabic news network Al-Jazeera broadcast a photo of Hassoun looking as if he were a hostage, blindfolded, and with a sword behind his head.

Hassoun contacted American officials in Beirut on July 8, and was taken to the American Embassy there.

He has made one statement since returning to the United States, saying he was captured and held against his will by anticoalition forces. He has declined interview requests.

Meanwhile, the families of four slain security contractors whose bodies were burned and dragged through the streets of Fallujah, Iraq, sued the workers' former company yesterday.

The families contend that the company, Blackwater Security Consulting, cut corners that led to the men's deaths last year.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

The workers were sent into Fallujah without proper equipment and personnel to defend the supply convoy they were guarding, according to the civil lawsuit.

"The fact that these four Americans found themselves located in the high-risk, war-torn city of Fallujah without armored vehicles, automatic weapons, and fewer than the minimum number of team members was no accident," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleges that one week before the deaths, Blackwater fired a project manager who had insisted that the contractors use armored vehicles.

A spokesman for North Carolina-based Blackwater said company officials had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. Company officials declined to discuss their decisions last year after the deaths.

Killed were Stephen S. Helvenston, Mike R. Teague, Jerko Gerald Zovko, and Wesley J.K. Batalona.

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