Prague, 6 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- "In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate, at this point we are uncertain of the destiny of our beloved brother, our son, our friend Wassef. 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.”
In Arabic and English, a family friend of kidnapped U.S. Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun asked his captors in Iraq to release him. Tarek Nossier spoke to reporters from the family's home in the U.S. state of Utah.
The family made its plea for the release as the fate of the U.S. soldier -- who is of Lebanese descent -- becomes increasingly unclear amid rapidly changing reports during the past few days.
The militants were often highly trained former members of Saddam Hussein's security forces.
An Iraqi Islamic group stated yesterday it had taken the 24-year-old Marine translator to a safe place after he allegedly promised to desert -- that is, not to return to his military unit. The group -- calling itself Islamic Response -- faxed the statement to the Qatar-based satellite news channel Al-Jazeera.
Hassoun had been reported killed two days ago and was presumed dead until another militant group -- Ansar al-Sunna -- denied he had been killed.
The U.S. Marine was first shown in captivity in a videotape released by militants on 27 June, seven days after he was reported missing. At that time, his captors threatened to kill him unless U.S. military authorities released Iraqi prisoners.
Two U.S. civilians and one South Korean have been beheaded by hostage-takers in Iraq and Saudi Arabia since mid-May. The continuing drama around Hassoun's capture comes as U.S. forces battle what appears to be an increasingly well-organized insurgency in Iraq. The insurgents make frequent use of kidnappings and suicide bombings -- as well as guerrilla attacks -- to target American troops and allied Iraqi security forces and officials.
The sophistication of the insurgent operations was highlighted this week in a videotape of bombing attacks obtained from militants by the U.S. weekly magazine "Time."
The videotape, aired on Reuters television, shows carefully orchestrated suicide bombings against targets in Baghdad and elsewhere. The explosions are recorded at the moment they occur by accomplices of the bomber prepositioned with a video camera nearby.
The videotape, which appears intended to recruit new members to the militants' ranks, includes some of the bombers reading final statements before embarking on their suicide missions.
A correspondent for "Time" magazine who was invited by insurgents to report on their activities says the militants he met were often highly trained former members of Saddam Hussein's security forces.
The correspondent, Michael Ware, writes that the insurgents have increasingly adopted fundamentalist Islamic beliefs. He says "foreign fighters, once estranged from home-grown guerrilla groups, are now integrated as cells or complete units with Iraqis."
In one measure of the group's abilities to launch well-coordinated attacks, bombings in five Iraqi cities on a single day late last month left at least 100 people, including three Americans, dead. The attacks occurred within a few hours in Al-Fallujah, Ramadi, Baquba, Mosul, and Baghdad.
Meanwhile, at least 10 U.S. Marines have been killed in the last week while conducting "security and stability operations" in Al-Anbar Province in western Iraq.
Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, whose sovereign government took power at the end of last month, said yesterday that multinational troops must stay in the country to maintain security.
Responding to comments by Syrian and Iranian leaders that "occupying forces" should leave Iraq, Allawi told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television station: "Yes, I saw [news of those comments] on TV. There are no occupying forces in Iraq. There is an international force that is here on request of Iraq and on the request of the Iraqi government. Their presence is essential for maintaining security. The departure of these forces would be detrimental to Iraq at this stage."
In Baghdad yesterday, Allawi's government said it had provided intelligence to the U.S. military for an air strike earlier in the day in the city of Al-Fallujah, in which at least 10 people were reported killed. The air strike purportedly targeted a suspected hideout linked to militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Allawi's government this week unexpectedly postponed an expected announcement of a new security law to crack down on insurgents. The new measures were originally due to be publicized over the weekend.
Senior Iraqi government officials have told reporters the law would set curfews in trouble spots, reinstate the death penalty, and offer a partial amnesty to encourage guerrillas to turn in their weapons.