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Bahraini princess to return home

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LAS VEGAS — The Bahraini princess who fled her homeland to marry a U.S. Marine is returning home because her family fears for her safety in America, the couple's attorney said Friday.

"She just told me she was going back. Her mother is concerned," attorney Jeff Conway said.

Meriam Al-Khalifa Johnson, 20, told The Associated Press in June she had not spoken with her parents since her secret rendezvous with Jason Johnson, who spirited her away from Bahrain in November 1999 using forged documents and the help of some friends.

Conway said at some point, Al-Khalifa Johnson and her family began speaking again, and her parents expressed concern over her safety in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. The suspected hijackers were Muslim, as is Al-Khalifa Johnson.

Conway said he spoke to Al-Khalifa Johnson several days ago in Las Vegas, where the couple have been living. He said she has been in Washington, D.C., since Thursday, coordinating her trip home. She may have already left for Bahrain, Conway said.

A message left on the couple's answering machine was not immediately returned on Friday evening. Conway said Johnson was not in Las Vegas, although he talked to him on Friday.

The attorney said he did not know whether the couple was separating.

"Jason said he just loves his wife very much," Conway said.

The two met in Bahrain, a small island off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia that also is the regional base for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Johnson, 26, was assigned to a unit providing security for Americans there.

Al-Khalifa Johnson is one of five daughters of Sheik Abdullah bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, a distant relative of Bahrain's ruler Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa. As a Muslim she was forbidden to marry a non-Muslim. She was expected to marry within an elite circle.

On Nov. 1, 1999, Johnson was able to get Al-Khalifa Johnson out of the country without anyone noticing until the couple reached Chicago, and immigration officials were waiting for them. Al-Khalifa Johnson requested political asylum, telling immigration officials she feared persecution if she returned to Bahrain.

"Apparently she feels there's no issue. She's spoken to her family and she's comfortable," Conway said.

In the June interview, Al-Khalifa Johnson said that when she left her country, she knew she could never go back. She also said her family would never accept Johnson.

"I didn't really want to marry an American. I just wanted to marry someone I was in love with," she said. "I just happened to fall in love with an American. I never wanted to leave my country."

The couple married in Las Vegas on Nov. 16, 1999.

Johnson, who was court-martialed and demoted, was discharged from the Marines at his request in October, and the couple settled in Las Vegas where some of his family lives.

In May, Al-Khalifa Johnson was granted a permanent U.S. visa.