Hassoun Charged with Desertion Again

Hassoun Charged with Desertion Again

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Jed Boal and Alex Cabrero ReportingMajor Matt Morgan, Camp Lejeune: "It's difficult at this point to say where he is, his whereabouts are simply unknown."

The Utah Marine charged with desertion has deserted again. The commanders of Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina officially declared him a deserter a few hours ago. Police are looking for him, and will arrest him on the spot.

Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun was supposed to return to Camp Lejeune from authorized leave yesterday at noon. He still has not reported for duty and all attempts to contact him have been unsuccessful, so the Marine Corps declared him a deserter a second time.

The Lebanese-born US Marine was initially charged with desertion last month for leaving his post in Iraq last year. Hassoun insisted he was captured by the enemy.

In June a video televised on Arab TV touched a nerve for relatives in West Jordan. The blindfolded Marine was threatened with death by beheading. Then,18 days after he disappeared from Fallujah, Hassoun turned up alive in Lebanon. Questions about his story arose and he was charged with desertion.

Two weeks ago Hassoun's military trial was postponed so he could hire a civilian lawyer. He was scheduled for a preliminary hearing for January 13th.

Maj. Matt Morgan, Camp Lejeune: "All suspects are innocent until proven guilty. He'd been on leave in Utah before, had not presented himself as a flight risk, so we didn't consider him to be one in this case either."

A spokesperson for Hassoun's family says the Marine was in Utah for the holidays and left eight days ago; they last heard from him in Washington DC a week ago. They thought he was headed for Camp Lejeune. The family is surprised by this development and concerned about his safety.

Tarek Nosseir, Hassoun family spokesperson: "Naturally, any family would be concerned about a family member that's missing."

Even his family's spokesperson admits things are a little odd.

Tarek Nosseir, Hassoun family spokesperson: "This is an incredible story, isn't it? It's definitely weird."

Tarek Nossier says he spent time with Hassoun at his West Jordan home during the Holidays, and thought he was getting ready to fight the desertion charges against him.

Tarek Nosseir, Hassoun family spokesperson: "He was definitely upbeat, and in my mind, was somebody who wanted to stay and fight this out... Saying he's innocent."

NBC News reports investigators tracked Hassoun's ATM banking activity to Canada, and they believe he went back to Lebanon. The US has no extradition treaty with Lebanon.

He may be trying to get to his brother Sami Hassoun, who is apparently there. Utah court documents from last January show where Sami was charged with using a false social security number. When it was time to face those charges, he never came to court. Instead the documents say he returned to Lebanon.

In Beirut, the U.S. Embassy said Thursday it could not confirm that Hassoun had fled to Lebanon.

Attempts to reach Hassoun's family in northern Lebanon were unsuccessful.

An elderly woman who answered the phone at the family's residence in Tripoli hung up upon hearing that a reporter was inquiring about Hassoun's father. Another woman who answered the phone said Hassoun's family members were not present.

Security officials in northern Lebanon, where Hassoun's family is from, said they have no information on Hassoun possibly returning to the region.

One security official in Beirut, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said Hassoun had been banned from entering Lebanon after he left the country in July.

Hassoun faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of the original charges of desertion, larceny, and theft of a military vehicle and weapon. Now there could be new charges.

Major Matt Morgan, a spokesman for Hassoun's unit at Camp Lejeune, says there were NO grounds on which to hold the corporal because he has yet to be formally indicted.

What's more, he says Hassoun had already taken leave twice since he returned to the base this summer, and returned to duty each time after visiting relatives in Utah. Morgan says there was NO reason for commanders to think Hassoun wouldn't come back this time as well.

(The Associated Press Contributed to this story)

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