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BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) -- Relatives of a U.S. Marine who surfaced in Beirut nearly three weeks after an apparent kidnapping in Iraq appealed for understanding from fellow Arabs on Saturday, saying the Lebanese-born man emigrated and joined the Marines for financial reasons.
Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun was doing well and recovering at a U.S. military hospital in Germany after being flown out of Lebanon on Friday, a Marine spokesman said. He is expected to return to his home unit in Camp Lejeune, N.C., next week.
In Hassoun's native city of Tripoli, his family issued a statement saying he was forced to go to the United States and join the Marines because of the deteriorating economic situation caused by Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.
The statement appeared aimed at countering criticism by some fundamentalist Sunni Muslims in Tripoli who accused Hassoun's family of being "American agents and collaborators." It stressed the family's Arab and Islamic ties, and its loyalty to Lebanon.
"We are a family of Lebanese Arab Muslims. We are not seeking to defend ourselves," the Hassoun family's statement said. "But we would like to thank the Lebanese for sympathizing with one of their sons (Hassoun) who was pushed by the difficult living conditions in their home country to emigrate and forced to work in a position that they may not like."
The statement said Hassoun, 24, was "driven by the lure of a good life to emigrate, (but he) might have made a mistake by choosing to sign a four-year contract with the U.S. Navy, which expires by the end of 2005."
The Marines are technically part of the Navy.
On Thursday, two people were killed and three others wounded in a Tripoli gunbattle between members of the Hassoun clan and business rivals who taunted them as being American collaborators.
The Hassoun clan, estimated at about 4,000 people, lives mostly in Tripoli and Dinniyah, northern areas where anti-American fundamentalist Sunni Muslim groups are dominant.
Hassoun, who joined the Marines in 2001, vanished June 20 from his base near the troubled Iraqi city of Fallujah where he had been working as an Arabic translator.
A week later, he appeared in a videotape aired on Arab television that showed him being held hostage by militants. His eyes were blindfolded with a white cloth, and a sword was hanging over his head.
Days later, there were conflicting reports about his fate -- first that he was beheaded, then that he was alive. He showed up Thursday at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, but it was unclear how he reached Lebanon and contacted American officials.
The Navy is investigating whether the entire kidnapping might have been a hoax.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)