BAGHDAD, Iraq – An Iraqi militant group said Monday it had not killed U.S. Marine Wassef Ali Hassoun but had moved him to "a place of safety" after he pledged not to return to the American armed forces, Al-Jazeera television reported.
Hassoun's family said they were praying that news of what they called his "safe release" was true -- while also asking his captors to be merciful.
"At this point we are uncertain about the destiny of our brother, our son, our friend, Wassef," family spokesman Tarek Nosseir said in a brief statement to reporters outside the family's home.
"We pray that the news of his safe release is true. If he is still in captivity, we remind the captors of the saying of our beloved prophet: 'Be merciful to those on Earth, mercy will descend on you from heaven.'"
Nosseir would not say why the family thought Hassoun may have been released. It was the first official statement in several days from Hassoun's family in Utah, who have remained in their home in the small city of West Jordan -- not far outside Salt Lake City.
In a statement sent to Al-Jazeera, a group calling itself "Islamic Response (search)" said it was holding Hassoun, a U.S. Marine of Lebanese heritage. The group said he was safe at a location it did not identify.
On Saturday a Web site posting claimed Hassoun had been beheaded. On Sunday, a second Web posting on another Internet site said Hassoun was alive.
The United States reported Hassoun, 24, missing after he did not report for duty at his base in Iraq on June 20.
Hassoun, fluent in Arabic, French and English, was serving in the Marines as a translator in his second stint in Iraq when he was captured.
On June 27, Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape showing Hassoun blindfolded along with a statement from militants threatening to kill him unless the United States released all Iraqis in "occupation jails." Militants held a curved sword over his head.
Other militant groups have captured and threatened to behead other foreign Muslim hostages, creating an uproar among many Muslims, including other militants. All the captured Muslims aside from Hassoun have been released unharmed.
The statement Monday claimed that Hassoun had promised not to return to the American military.
The statement was issued in the name of the same group that claimed initial responsibility on the June 27 video for the kidnapping. The group calls itself "Islamic Response," the security wing of the "National Islamic Resistance — 1920 Revolution Brigades." The name refers to the uprising against the British after World War I.
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.
Hassoun's father, Ali Hassoun, who lives in Tripoli, Lebanon, repeatedly pleaded for his son's release. He and his other sons have contacted politicians and Muslim clerics in Lebanon and Islamist groups in Iraq in hopes of securing the Marine's release.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.