RALEIGH, N.C. – A Marine charged with desertion in Iraq after mysteriously disappearing from his post has again been declared a deserter — this time for failing to report to his U.S. base.
"We don't know where he is," said Maj. Matt Morgan, a spokesman for the Camp Lejeune-based 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade. "The military is actively looking for him."
Hassoun's last military court hearing was held shortly before most personnel at the base began Christmas holiday leave. Hassoun was not being held in custody.
Morgan said he didn't know when Hassoun left during the holiday leave period, which was from Dec. 23 until Tuesday. He was required to return by noon Tuesday, Morgan said.
Hassoun was in West Jordan, Utah, for about a week in December, Hassoun family spokesman Tarek Nosseir said. He said there was no indication of a problem.
"We went to lunch, he was upbeat, there was no problem," Nosseir said.
The Hassoun family last saw Wassef Dec. 28, when they took him to the airport for a flight bound for North Carolina. They have been trying since Dec. 29 to reach him by cell phone with no success, Nosseir said.
Morgan said Hassoun's "command officially declared him a deserter and issued authorization for civil authorities to apprehend Hassoun and return him to military control."
The corporal's hearing on the Iraq desertion charge has been delayed until Jan. 13 to allow Hassoun to hire a civilian lawyer to assist his military attorneys.
In Iraq, Hassoun had last been seen June 19, but did not report for duty the next day and was listed as missing. Seven days later, the Arabic news network Al-Jazeera broadcast the photo of Hassoun looking as if he were a hostage, blindfolded and with a sword behind his head.
A group called the National Islamic Resistance/1920 Revolution Brigade (search) claimed to be holding him and was threatening to decapitate him unless detainees in "U.S.-led occupation prisons" were released, Al-Jazeera said.
Hassoun contacted American officials in Lebanon on July 8, and he was taken to the American Embassy there. It remains unclear how he traveled from Iraq to Lebanon, where he was born and still has some relatives.
He has made one statement since returning to the United States, saying he was captured and held against his will by anti-coalition forces. Hassoun has declined interview requests.
Besides desertion, Hassoun was charged with loss of government property and theft of a military firearm for allegedly leaving the camp with his 9 mm service pistol, as well as theft of a Humvee.
Morgan has said Hassoun could face a maximum life sentence without parole if convicted of deserting during wartime on the Iraq charges. Non-wartime charges of unauthorized leave carry a five-year maximum sentence. The other counts carry 10-year maximums.