Militant group denies killing US Marine

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The Independent Online

Confusion surrounded the fate of a US Marine last night after an Iraqi militant group denied they had killed him, despite claims on two Islamic extremist websites that 24-year-old Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun had been beheaded.

Confusion surrounded the fate of a US Marine last night after an Iraqi militant group denied they had killed him, despite claims on two Islamic extremist websites that 24-year-old Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun had been beheaded.

The so-called Army of Ansar al-Sunna branded as false on its own website a statement in its name claiming he had been killed. "This statement that claimed to be from us has no basis in truth ... and we have an official website through which we publish statements," the group said at a new internet address. Its previous site appeared to have been shut down.

"The media have published, quoting the Lebanese Foreign Ministry, that the Ansar al-Sunna Army has killed the American hostage, of Lebanese origin, who was kidnapped in Iraq. To maintain our credibility in all issues we declare that this statement that was attributed to us has no basis of truth. Any statement that is not issued through our site does not represent us."

The original threat to kill Cpl Hassoun was made in a videotape a week ago on al-Jazeera TV. But it was made in the name of another organisation, known as Islamic Response.

Earlier yesterday, Lebanon's Foreign Ministry said it had separate information on Saturday from Baghdad that Cpl Hassoun, who went missing on 21 June, had been killed. But later the Lebanese Foreign Minister, Jean Obeid, said news of the death "was not official". In Lebanon, Cpl Hassoun's brother, Sami, said: "We have no information. All we are doing now is looking at the internet and watching television. We don't know anything more." Hassoun, who is fluent in Arabic, French and English, was serving as a translator in his second spell in Iraq.

On 27 June, al-Jazeera broadcast the videotape showing him blindfolded, along with a statement from militants threatening to kill him unless the United States releases all Iraqis in "occupation jails".

Cpl Hassoun's father, Ali, who lives in Tripoli, has repeatedly pleaded for his son's release, saying he was not involved in the fight against Iraqi resistance groups. He and his other sons had contacted politicians and Muslim clerics in Lebanon and Islamist groups in Iraq.

Family members said Cpl Hassoun was educated at American schools in Lebanon and joined the marines after moving to Salt Lake City, Utah.

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