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Pentagon: Captured Marine was on unauthorized leave

Circumstances of his absence under investigation

This image from an Al-Jazeera video shows a captured Marine, who his captors said is Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun.
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WEST JORDAN, Utah (CNN) -- The military thinks Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, now listed as captured, initially left his base in Iraq on unauthorized leave, a Pentagon official said Tuesday.

A senior Defense Department official said Hassoun, who did not report to duty on June 20, might have been trying to reach his family in Lebanon and left his base under his own free will.

Sunday, the Arab-language network Al-Jazeera aired video of a man identified as Hassoun, who was surrounded by armed men. The captive displayed his Marine identification papers, and one of the captors brandished a sword above his head.

On the tape, a speaker said the man was lured from his base and captured, and his captors threatened to kill him unless U.S. military authorities release Iraqi prisoners.

Shortly after his disappearance, Hassoun's family was notified he was missing, but there was no public announcement, the Pentagon official said, because the military did not want to signal insurgents that a Marine might be out in the countryside unprotected.

The military and the family made the announcement about the status change at a news conference in Hassoun's hometown of West Jordan, Utah, on Tuesday night.

"The Marine Corps have officially notified the family that Wassef's status of desertion is being revoked and has been changed to captured," family spokesman Tarek Nosseir said.

A Marines spokeswoman said Hassoun's status was changed from missing to captured after the video aired, but questions remain about how he was abducted.

"The circumstances regarding his absence remain under investigation," Capt. Amy Malugami said. "His whereabouts are currently unknown."

The military believes it was "highly unlikely" that Hassoun was captured from the base, according to the Defense Department official. The current assessment is he was having "family problems," although that possibility is still being investigated.

Hassoun, a Marine translator who speaks Arabic, was last seen on June 19. Hassoun is a member of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and is a native of Lebanon. He had been living with some family members in Utah before joining the Marines.

The Pentagon official said the military is investigating whether Hassoun had money when he disappeared. He was last seen with his M9 service pistol.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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