WEST JORDAN, Utah – Relatives of U.S. Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun (search) awaited official word of his fate even as a Lebanese news agency reported Sunday he been killed by his captors in Iraq.
The U.S. military in Baghdad (search) said it was checking into the claim but had no confirmation.
Family members in Utah had been in seclusion since Saturday, when a militant group calling itself the Ansar al-Sunna Army claimed on a Web site that it had beheaded Hassoun, adding it would release video backing up that assertion.
A telephone message left early Sunday morning at the home of Hassoun's brother, Mohammed Hassoun, was not immediately returned. Mohammed Hassoun had declined comment Saturday.
The National News Agency in Lebanon on Sunday cited the Foreign Ministry, which was informed of the death by Lebanon's charge d'affairs in Baghdad. The agency did not say how Hassoun's death had been confirmed.
Capt. Amy Malugani, a Marine Corps spokeswoman assigned by the military to provide support for the Hassoun family, did not answer her phone early Sunday. Instead, a message instructed members of the media to contact Marine Corps Headquarters, where phones were not answered either Saturday or Sunday.
On Saturday, Shuaib-Ud Din, the imam at Khadeeja mosque in nearby West Valley City (search), met with Hassoun's family members for about 15 minutes at their home, where the yard had been decorated in recent days by about two dozen flags put up by Boy Scouts.
At a news conference at the mosque, the imam said the Hassouns were praying and awaiting official word of Wassef Hassoun's fate. He cautioned the public against automatically believing reports out of the Middle East.
"Every family has a different way of dealing with the crisis. This family prefers less attention," Shuaib said. "They don't like the media outlets to be pounding on their door. They would like some privacy."
Shuaib said it was more important to remember that Hassoun is a Marine taken captive than that he is a Muslim. "What faith are the captors, what faith is Ali Hassoun is less important," he said.
On June 27, the Arab television station Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape showing Hassoun blindfolded, along with a statement from militants threatening to kill him unless the United States releases all Iraqis in "occupation jails."
The U.S. military said Hassoun had been absent without authorization since June 20, though after the video was shown it changed his status to "captured."
Family members said Hassoun was born in Lebanon, educated at American schools there and then joined the Marines after moving to the Salt Lake City area.
The 24-year-old Hassoun, fluent in Arabic, French and English, was serving the Marines as a translator in his second stint in Iraq when he was captured.
On Saturday, neighbors and strangers delivered flowers to the Hassoun home. Police would not allow them to knock on the door, so Matthew Baker left his vase of roses and daisies leaning against the garage door.
"We just wanted to show what we thought about heroes," said Baker, 28, who had his 4-year-old son in tow.
Hassoun's father, Ali Hassoun (search), who lives in Tripoli, 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 in hopes of securing the Marine's release.