SALT LAKE CITY – A Marine spokeswoman sent here to provide support to the family of missing Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun (search) provided few answers why the military officially changed its classification of his disappearance to being abducted Tuesday.
Capt. Amy Malugani, a Marine Corps (search) spokeswoman, instead deferred questions to either Marine Corps headquarters or Department of Defense officials during a late Tuesday evening media briefing at Fort Douglas.
She specifically refused to answer why the military changed Hassoun's status from "missing" to "captured" on Tuesday, and also referred questions to officials in Washington, D.C., about a report saying Hassoun was captured while trying to defect.
The New York Times, citing a Marine officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity, reported on its Web site Tuesday night that Hassoun had been traumatized after seeing one of his sergeants killed by a mortar, and was trying to make his way back to Lebanon (search). The officer told the paper that Hassoun sought the help of Iraqis on the base, was betrayed by them, and was handed over to the extremists.
Hassoun's eldest brother, Mohammad, who lives in a Salt Lake City suburb, denied the report in an interview with The Associated Press.
"To me it has no foundation. It's all wrong," Mohammad Hassoun said Tuesday night.
"The circumstances surrounding his absence are still under investigation," she said when asked how a Marine is lured away from his unit.
A military commander in Iraq had previously said Hassoun went "on an unauthorized absence" June 19 and did not report for duty the next day. Officials said based on his personal situation, there was reason to suspect he was headed to Lebanon.
Hassoun, 24 and of Lebanese descent, is apparently being held hostage in Iraq by a militant group which is threatening to behead him if the U.S. military does not release all prisoners in Iraq.
Malugani also would not answer questions about what measures the Marines were taking to try to rescue Hassoun of if any steps are being taken to meet the demands of those who took him hostage.
Malugani said she was simply sent to Salt Lake City to provide support to Hassoun's family.
"As a Marine Corps we take care of our Marines," she said. "That means taking care of their families."
Hassoun's family in Salt Lake City continue to pray, and asked the same of the rest of the world, said their spokesman, Tarek Nosseir.
The capture "is what has been destined upon us, and we accept it," he said.
Three Marine Corps representatives visited privately with the Hassoun family in West Jordan on Tuesday, the same day American military officials declared he had been abducted.