Missing marine safe in Beirut

The Lebanese-born soldier has been at the centre of widely conflicting reports about the circumstances of his disappearance since he was reported missing on June 20.

The matter is now under investigation by the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

He was apparently kidnapped after straying from his military base in Iraq, with video images showing a man, identified as Hassoun, blindfolded and held by armed Islamic militants in a broadcast by Al-Jazeera on June 27.

Confusion about the fate of the 24-year-old translator deepened when a statement was posted on an Islamic website on July 3 saying he had been beheaded.

Ansar al-Sunna, the group apparently responsible for the claim, posted a subsequent message denying any connection with the first statement.

Then on July 5, an Iraqi militant group said Hassoun was alive and being held in a safe place after agreeing to quit the US military.

A spokeswoman at the US embassy in Beirut has confirmed that Hassoun was picked up by American authorities in the Lebanese capital, but gave no details as to how he arrived in the country or how officials were notified of his presence.

The US television network NBC has added to the speculation, reporting that the US Navy investigation is looking into whether Hassoun’s kidnapping may have been an elaborate hoax.

“I don’t think they’re ruling that out. It would be fair to say they’re not ruling that out,” Major Nat Fahy said.

In an added twist, one of Hassoun’s distant relatives in Tripoli has reportedly shot two people dead and wounded three others.

Local security officials said the man had opened fire on gathering outside his shop after being taunted with jeers that the Hassoun clan were American collaborators.

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