Marine's family receives signs he is alive and free


BAGHDAD, Iraq - Three days after he was reportedly beheaded, a U.S. Marine held captive in Iraq has been released, his family said yesterday. But the mystery surrounding Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun was still not fully resolved: Family members said they had not spoken with him directly.

"We received a sign that he is alive and he is released and everything is OK," his elder brother, Sami, 26, said in a telephone interview from Lebanon, where Hassoun was born and where some members of his family still live. "The sign is something that came directly from him. There is something that nobody else could possibly know. It's a certain clue. He is alive and he is released."

U.S. military officials, who said they did not believe Hassoun was being held under duress, say he was absent without leave from his base in Iraq. But his brother said that allegation is unimportant.

"All I care about is that he is alive," he said. "That is worth the whole world."

The level of violence in Iraq is still high, and at least five people were killed yesterday when a suicide bomber drove into a funeral service near the restive city of Baqouba, about 50 miles north of Baghdad. Some reports put the death toll as high as 13, with more than 30 wounded.

The funeral was for two people killed the day before when gunmen attacked a municipal building in Baqouba.

Bombings in which civilians are killed and injured have outraged many Iraqis, and what may be a vivid sign of that anger emerged yesterday when a militant group issued a video threatening to kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who has claimed responsibility for many deadly attacks and beheadings of captives here.

The video, released to Al-Arabiya television, had all of the trappings of similar taped threats against Western targets in Iraq but seemed slightly more elaborate. Four armed men, their faces wrapped in Arab headscarves, appeared before an Iraqi flag, as one of the men read a statement threatening to kill Zarqawi unless he leaves Iraq, and anyone who hid him here. A pistol and a rocket-propelled grenade lay next to a Quran on a table from which the man delivered the statement.

"We have prepared ourselves," he said, identifying himself as part of a previously unknown group, the Salvation Movement. "We swear we will track him down wherever he is and arrest him and his followers or kill them. This is the last warning for those who shelter him."

Near Fallujah, the center of the resistance against U.S. troops and Iraqi police, three U.S. Marines were killed Monday when their armored car was struck by a homemade roadside bomb.

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