RALEIGH, N.C. — Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, the Marine who was once thought kidnapped in Iraq only to be charged later with desertion, has disappeared, Marine officials announced Wednesday.
Hassoun had been on leave with his family in West Jordan, Utah, when he was scheduled to return to Camp Lejeune on Tuesday, military officials told FOX News. Hassoun’s family said they do not know his whereabouts, and the military began notifying civilian law enforcement of his fugitive status.
The U.S. Marine Corps again listed Hassoun as a deserter on Wednesday. He had been charged in December with unauthorized leave following a five-month probe into his June disappearance from a U.S. military camp in Iraq.
The 24-year-old Utah resident went missing June 20, 2004, from his base in Fallujah. A few days later a videotape of him blindfolded and with a sword hanging over his head aired on Arab television, prompting fears he had been taken hostage by terrorists.
A group claiming they took Hassoun said he had been killed after being lured from the base by a love affair.
But in a bizarre twist, Hassoun turned up unharmed on July 8 at the U.S. Embassy in his native Lebanon. He claimed he had been captured by anti-American forces, but it was unclear how he had gotten to Beirut from Iraq.
“I did not desert my post,” Hassoun told reporters after returning to the United States. “I was captured and held against my will by anti-coalition forces for 19 days. This was a very difficult and challenging time for me.”
Hassoun, who had been working in Iraq as an Arabic translator, repeatedly denied he had deserted. “I would like to tell all the Marines as well as all those others serving in Iraq to keep their heads up and spirits high. Once a Marine, always a Marine, Semper Fi,” Hassoun told reporters on July 19, invoking the Marine Corps motto, Latin for “always faithful.”
But the mysteries clouding his disappearance in Iraq and re-appearance in Lebanon fueled an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service. On Dec. 9, he was charged with desertion.
Hassoun also faces charges of loss of government property and theft of a military firearm for allegedly leaving the Marine camp while still in possession of his service pistol, as well as theft and wrongful appropriation of a government vehicle.
Hassoun was then moved to Camp Lejeune, N.C. Sources told FOX News he had been allowed to go on leave to visit his family for New Year’s. He was due back at noon on Tuesday.
Hassoun had been awaiting an Article 32 hearing, one of the first steps toward a possible court-martial in the military justice system.
The desertion count carries a five-year maximum prison sentence and the other counts carry 10-year maximums. If convicted, Hassoun also could be dishonorably discharged and ordered to forfeit his pay and allowances.
The corporal’s hearing on the Iraq desertion charge was delayed until Jan. 13 to allow Hassoun to hire a civilian lawyer to assist his military attorneys.