Hassoun Denies Deserting

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Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun emphatically denies he deserted the service.

For the first time Monday, he publicly addressed the questions swirling around his mysterious disappearance in Iraq.

"I did not desert my post," said Hassoun. "I was captured and held against my will for 19 days."

Cpl. Hassoun read from a prepared statement outside Quantico Marine Base in Virginia. The 24-year-old of Lebanese descent took no questions and gave no details about what happened to him.

"This was a difficult and challenging time for me," Hassoun said.

Hassoun returned to the U.S. on Thursday after six days of medical evaluation at a military hospital in Germany. He had gone missing from his base near Fallujah on June 20.

An insurgent group later broadcast video of the blindfolded marine and threatened to kill him, but then Hassoun showed up unharmed at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut on July 8.

Military investigators said it was possible the whole thing was a hoax.

"Any conclusions about what happened between the time he disappeared and returned to our control remains to be the focus of both the repatriation process and any investigations that might go on," said Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, spokesman for the U.S. Marine Corps.