QUANTICO, Va. -- Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun, the Marine who disappeared under mysterious circumstances while on duty in Iraq, insisted yesterday that he was captured by enemy forces and that he remains a loyal Marine.
''I did not desert my post," he told reporters outside Quantico Marine Corps Base. ''I was captured and held against my will by anticoalition forces for 19 days. This was a very difficult and challenging time for me."
He did not answer any questions during his brief appearance. He was joined by his brother, who arrived from Utah.
''I would like to tell all the Marines as well as all those others serving in Iraq to keep their heads up and spirits high. Once a Marine, always a Marine. Semper Fi," Hassoun said, invoking the Marine Corps motto, which is Latin for ''always faithful."
Marine spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Dave Lapan said the Marine Corps was not in a position to confirm or refute Hassoun's claim.
''The words are his. They were reviewed only to make sure . . . that he didn't provide useful information to the enemy or divulge information that is militarily sensitive or could cause problems in some way," Lapan said.
Hassoun, 24, of West Jordan, Utah, disappeared June 20 from his base near the troubled Iraqi city of Fallujah and turned up unharmed at the US Embassy in Beirut on July 8. It remains unclear how he traveled from Iraq to Lebanon, where he was born and still has some relatives.
On June 27, Arab television showed a videotape of a blindfolded Hassoun, a sword hanging over his head.
At one point during his disappearance, a group claiming to represent his captors announced that he had been beheaded after being lured from the base by a love affair.
The military is investigating whether the reported kidnapping was a hoax and whether Hassoun, who is a Muslim, deserted his unit.
Hassoun is in the midst of what the Marines call a ''repatriation process," during which he is debriefed and given time to decompress and avoid the media spotlight, officials said.
Hassoun arrived at Quantico on Friday after six days of undergoing medical evaluation at a military hospital in Germany.
In the coming days, he will leave Quantico for Camp Lejeune, N.C., his home base, Lapan said. He will continue the repatriation process there, Lapan said.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is not expected to question Hassoun until his repatriation procedure is completed, the Marine Corps said.
Lapan said the Marine Corps reviewed Hassoun's statement and made no changes.
Officials said it may be weeks or months before Hassoun returns to active duty.