BAGHDAD, Iraq – A Lebanese-born U.S. Marine whose beheading was mistakenly reported on an Islamic Web site apparently has been freed and is in a “safe place,” his family and the U.S. military said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the number of insurgent attacks has “not abated, not slowed down” since the return of limited sovereignty to Iraqis on June 28.

A pause in the attacks around the time of the hand-over had raised hopes that the violence would ease, but those hopes haven’t been realized.

On Tuesday, the military announced the combat-related deaths of three U.S. Marines in the western al Anbar province. A car bomber killed at least six people northeast of Baghdad, and a neighborhood councilman was assassinated in a volatile Sunni Muslim area of the capital.

U.S. soldiers shot and killed a 4-year-old Iraqi boy and wounded another child after the car they were in failed to stop at an American checkpoint in Baghdad, according to a military statement.

Also Tuesday, an Arabic-language satellite channel broadcast a video of masked gunmen vowing to hunt and kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terror suspect who has claimed responsibility for many large-scale bombings in Iraq. The men ordered al-Zarqawi out of the country, accusing him of killing innocent Iraqis and distorting Islam.

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is expected to introduce some form of martial law on Wednesday to curb the ongoing violence, though such a measure would rely heavily on the cooperation of U.S.-led forces in enforcing curfews and rooting out attackers.

Family members of Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, the 24-year-old U.S. Marine missing since June 20, told journalists they had received reliable information that he had been freed. Last week, a posting on a Web site claimed that a militant group had followed through on threats to behead Hassoun after luring him away from his base in Iraq.

The U.S. military official said questions remain about Hassoun’s ordeal. The Marine reportedly left the base without authorization, perhaps en route to Lebanon. The Internet statement said he had been romantically involved with an Arab woman and was lured away from base.

A video aired on Arab television showed Hassoun blindfolded and in uniform as his captors read a statement. After three days of conflicting reports on his fate, his family said Tuesday that Hassoun was safe, though they hadn’t seen him yet.


The car bombing in the town of Khalis, northeast of Baghdad, killed at least six people and injured two as Iraqis attended a wake for victims of a previous attack, according to the U.S. military.

The tape of the previously unknown “Salvation Movement” targeting al-Zarqawi aired the day after a U.S. airstrike killed about 15 people at a suspected safe house for the militant in the flashpoint city of Fallujah. The group voiced the concerns of many Iraqis who question al-Zarqawi’s use of Islam to justify killing innocent civilians, targeting government officials and kidnapping and beheading foreigners.

“We swear by Allah that we have started preparing … to capture him and his allies or kill them and present them as a gift to our people,” said one of the men in the video. “This is the last warning. If you don’t stop, we will do to you what the coalition forces have failed to do.”

The video marked the first time an Iraqi group issued a public threat against al-Zarqawi. The U.S. military said it had no information on the Salvation Movement and reiterated that vigilante groups wouldn’t be tolerated under Iraqi law.

(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-07-06-04 1648EDT

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