WEST JORDAN, Utah – Relatives of the U.S. Marine abducted in Iraq kept a strict silence and continued the tense wait for news following conflicting reports of his fate.
The family of U.S. Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun (search) has been in seclusion since Saturday, when a militant group calling itself the Ansar al-Sunna Army (search) claimed on a Web site that it had beheaded Hassoun, adding it would release video backing up that assertion.
But the group said Sunday it didn't issue the statement, leaving it unclear if the 24-year-old was killed by another group or was still alive.
The National News Agency in Lebanon reported the death Sunday, citing 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.
The U.S. military in Baghdad said it was checking into the claim but had no confirmation. Tarek Nosseir, a spokesman for the Hassoun family, declined comment Sunday.
On Saturday, Shuaib-Ud Din, the imam at Khadeeja mosque in nearby West Valley City, came to meet with Hassoun's family members 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," he 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. Hassoun, fluent in Arabic, French and English, was serving the Marines as a translator in his second stint in Iraq when he was captured.
Hassoun's father, Ali Hassoun, who lives in Tripoli, Lebanon (search), 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.