WEST JORDAN, Utah – Utah relatives of Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun (search) maintained their intense privacy Wednesday, rejecting the chance to address claims the captured soldier had deserted the U.S. military in Iraq.
The New York Times, citing an unidentified Marine (search) officer, reported Wednesday that Hassoun had deserted with the help of Iraqis on his base, and was apparently betrayed and turned over to insurgents by those he had befriended.
The Times reported that Hassoun had been shaken after seeing one of his sergeants blown apart by a mortar shell and decided to leave his post and go to Lebanon (search).
Hassoun's eldest brother, Mohammad, who lives in a Salt Lake City suburb, denied the report late Tuesday in a rare conversation with a reporter. "To me it has no foundation. It's all wrong," he told The Associated Press.
However, the Utah family's silence was underscored Wednesday when Marine spokeswoman Capt. Amy Malugani, speaking on behalf of the Hassouns, insisted there would likely be no public comment until the case reaches a resolution.
That contrasts with the outspoken pleas of Hassoun's father in Tripoli, Lebanon, who has publicly asked the captors to release his son, saying he was not involved in the fight against Iraqi resistance groups.
The military officially changed its classification of Hassoun's disappearance from "missing" to "captured" on Tuesday.
An insurgent group has threatened to behead Hassoun unless Iraqi prisoners are released. Hassoun was shown blindfolded with a sword brandished over his head in a video aired on Al-Jazeera television. No timeframe has been set for his execution.
Marine representatives, in West Jordan to comfort the family as they await word on Hassoun's fate, refused to comment on his status.
"We're here to help them with whatever they need," said Malugani, addressing a throng of reporters gathered outside the family's home.
West Jordan Boy Scouts on Wednesday plunged about two dozen American flags, standing roughly six feet apart, around the perimeter of the Hassoun home.
"It's important to be good friends and neighbors, especially in times of crisis," said Scoutmaster Tony Rasmussen of Troop 1133.
The Scouts asked the family for permission before putting up the flags and said the idea emerged after Hassoun neighbors had groped for ways to show their support. The flags joined an American flag and Marine Corps flag placed in the front yard Tuesday by a neighbor.