Arab-American Marine twice accused of desertion is back in US custody
A US marine who was declared a deserter nearly 10 years ago after disappearing in Iraq and then returning to the US claiming he had been kidnapped, only to disappear again, is back in American custody, officials said.
Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun, 34, turned himself in and was being flown from an undisclosed location in the Middle East to Norfolk, in the state of Virginia. He is to be moved to Camp Lejeune in the state of North Carolina, according to a spokesman, Captain Eric Flanagan.
Major General Raymond Fox, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Lejeune, will decide whether to court-martial Hassoun.
In a statement, the Marine Corps said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service "worked with" Hassoun to turn himself in and return to the US to face charges.
Hassoun disappeared from his unit in Iraq's western desert in June 2004. The following month he turned up unharmed in Beirut, Lebanon, and blamed his disappearance on Islamic extremist kidnappers. He was returned to Lejeune and was about to face the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing when he disappeared again.
It is unclear where Hassoun has spent the past nine years after disappearing during a visit with relatives in the state of Utah in December 2004. Nor is it known why he chose to turn himself in now. He was born in Lebanon and is a naturalised American citizen.
He enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 2002 and was trained as a vehicle operator. At the time of his disappearance from a marine camp in Fallujah, western Iraq, in June 2004 he was serving as an Arabic translator.
Seven days after that disappearance, a photo of a blindfolded Hassoun with a sword poised above his head turned up on Al-Jazeera television. A group called the National Islamic Resistance/1920 Revolution Brigade claimed to be holding him captive.
On July 8, 2004, Hassoun contacted American officials in Beirut, claiming to have been kidnapped. He was returned to the US and eventually to Camp Lejeune.
After a navy investigation, the military charged Hassoun with desertion, loss of government property, theft of a military firearm for allegedly leaving the Fallujah camp with a 9 mm service pistol, and theft of a Humvee military vehicle.
Shortly after his return to the US, Hassoun said in a public statement that he had been captured by insurgents in Iraq and was still a loyal marine.