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U.S. Marine, long listed as deserter, back in custody

U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun reads a prepared statement outside the gate at Quantico Marine Corps Base in Northern Virginia, [35 miles south of Washington], July 19, 2004. - RTXMRZH
U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun reads a prepared statement outside the gate at Quantico Marine Corps Base in Northern Virginia, [35 miles south of Washington], July 19, 2004. - RTXMRZH

By Peter Cooney

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Marine listed as a deserter for almost a decade since going missing after his return to the United States following his brief disappearance in Iraq is back in military custody, the Marine Corps said on Sunday.

Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun, 34, is scheduled to return on Monday to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, 9-1/2 years after he failed to report for duty there on Jan. 5, 2005, following a visit to his family, the Marines said. He had since been listed as a deserter, the service added.

"The Naval Criminal Investigative Service worked with Cpl. Hassoun to turn himself in and return to the United States to face charges under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice," the Marine Corps said in a statement. Media reports said he gave himself up in Bahrain.

Hassoun was first charged with desertion 10 years ago after disappearing from his base near Falluja, Iraq, in June 2004 and then turning up in Lebanon a month later saying he had been kidnapped by militants.

After a five-month investigation, the Marines alleged that Hassoun had "taken unauthorized leave of the unit where he served as an Arabic interpreter," the service said in a 2004 release.

During his disappearance, Hassoun was seen in a videotape, apparently being held by militants, blindfolded and with a sword poised over his head.

An Islamic militant website said later he had been beheaded. But he showed up unharmed at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in July 2004. Hassoun denied deserting and told reporters he had been captured and held against his will.

Shortly before the start of military proceedings against him, Hassoun failed to report back to Camp Lejeune after visiting his family in Utah.

According to media reports, Hassoun fled the United States through Canada and went to Lebanon, where he was born.

Media reports quoted a Marine official as saying Hassoun's case had no connection with that of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who spent five years as a Taliban prisoner of war before being released last month in an exchange for five Taliban leaders held at the Guantanamo prison in Cuba. [ID:nL2N0P61VM] The exchange sparked a political uproar in Washington.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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