WEST JORDAN, Utah (AP) -- Amid new evidence he may be alive, relatives of abducted U.S. Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun broke their silence Monday and said they hoped the news meant he has been released.
"At this point we are uncertain about the destiny of our brother, our son, our friend, Wassef," said family spokesman Tarek Nosseir.
"We pray that the news of his safe release is true. If he is still in captivity, we remind the captors of the saying of our beloved prophet: Be merciful to those on earth, mercy will descend upon you from heaven," Nosseir said.
Nosseir, however, would not answer why the family thought he may have been released or any other questions after reading the short statement in front of the family's American flag-draped suburban home.
"We renew our request of all people of the world to continue to pray for his safe release," said Nossier, who has spoken for Hassoun's brother, Mohammed, and family in West Jordan. The family otherwise has been reclusive since news of the Marine's abduction was announced June 27, and in seclusion since reports of his beheading surfaced Saturday.
Writing the soldier's latest twist of fortune, an Iraqi militant group said Monday it was holding the 24-year-old Muslim in a safe place but hadn't killed him. Al-Jazeera television broadcast the statement from "Islamic Response," which claimed responsibility June 27 for Hassoun's kidnapping.
On Saturday a Web site posting said Hassoun had been beheaded, a claim initially supported by the Lebanese Foreign Ministry, which relied on a sketchy report from its charge d'affairs in Baghdad.
But on Sunday, a second Web posting on another Internet site said Hassoun was alive.
Islamic Response said Hassoun was being safely held Monday at an undisclosed location. The group calls itself a security wing for "National Islamic Resistance -- 1920 Revolution Brigades," a name that refers to the uprising against the British after World War I.
Hassoun, educated at American schools in his native Lebanon before moving to the Salt Lake City area, was serving his second stint in Iraq as a translator fluent in Arabic, French and English, when he went missing June 20.
Hassoun's father and a brother in Lebanon have exhorted Iraqi militants to spare his life, the only foreign Muslim now reportedly being held by insurgents, whose threats against Muslims caught up in conflicting loyalties in Iraq have created an uproar among Muslims generally and even some militants.
More than 40 people from several countries have been abducted in Iraq since April, many of them released or freed by coalition soldiers. Three of the captives -- American businessman Nicholas Berg, U.S. engineer Paul M. Johnson Jr. and South Korean translator Kim Sun-il -- have been beheaded.
The United States reported Hassoun missing after he did not report for duty at his base in Iraq on June 20. On June 27, Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape showing Hassoun blindfolded with a curved sword held over his head. Those militants threatened to kill him unless the United States released all Iraqis in "occupation jails."
Islamic Response said Hassoun was promising to not return to the American military.
Another militant group in Iraq claimed last week that it had killed Spc. Keith M. Maupin, of Batavia, Ohio, an American soldier held captive since April. The military has not yet confirmed that it was Maupin who was shown in grainy video footage of a man being shot in the back of the head.
The U.S. military in Baghdad said it was checking into Hassoun's status but had no confirmation of his condition.
Shuaib-Ud Din, the imam at the Khadeeja mosque in nearby West Valley City, has cautioned against putting faith in uncorroborated reports out of the Middle East. He met with Hassoun's relatives here Saturday at their home, where a Boy Scout troop decorated the yard with 31 U.S. flags.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)