WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- A Justice Department official -- responding to a Saudi offer to arrange an interview with a terror suspect's wife -- said Thursday the department was interested in talking to the woman, who left the country with the Saudi Embassy's assistance.
Maha Hafeez al Marri, 30, left the United States in November after the Saudi Embassy in Washington issued new passports to her and her five children. U.S. officials had confiscated their previous passports to prevent Marri and her children from leaving the country.
Justice Department Bryan Sierra told United Press International his department was "unaware that she was being allowed to leave the country."
"We are looking at other ways to talk to her," he said. When told that the Saudis have already offered to arrange for her to be interviewed by U.S. officials in Saudi Arabia, he said: "That's what I was referring to when I said we are looking at other ways to talk to her."
Asked if the Saudis would be willing to bring her back to the United States to help an ongoing investigation against her husband, a spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, Nail al Jubair, said: "(I) don't know about bringing her back but she will be available for interview."
He said the embassy had informed the State Department in August that it was issuing new passports to Maha al Marri and her children. "And then we informed them again in November, telling them that she will be available for interview even after she leaves the country."
Jubair said that on May 1, 2002, Maha al Marri's lawyers sent a letter to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York informing them that she wanted to leave the country and the office acknowledged receiving the letter on May 6.
The embassy, however, does not directly deal with the Justice Department. "We inform the State Department, who then informed the people concerned," he said.
He also said it was not correct that she was under a subpoena when she left the country.
"A subpoena was issued on Dec. 14 for her to appear on Dec. 19 at 10 a.m. at the southern district of New York but it was later cancelled and no other subpoena was issued," said Jubair.
"Our lawyers tell us that if a subpoena expires, either it has to be extended or a new subpoena has to be issued," he said, adding: "Those who say she was under subpoena are certainly not truthful."
He said Maha al Marri received a search warrant, issued by the central district of Illinois, for searching her apartment in Peoria.
Government agents, who searched her apartment, confiscated her passport, five credit card invoices, digital cameras, a couple of CDs, three floppy discs, a world almanac 2002 and some other books, he said.
Mahal al Marri's husband, Ali al Marri, 37, is accused of lying to the FBI about his ties to an al Qaida financier believed to have provided money to the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.
He has pleaded innocent to the charge.
Ali al Marri was charged in December 2001 after U.S. officials investigating the Sept. 11 attacks traced a call they said he had made to terrorism financier Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi in the United Arab Emirates.
Marri, then living in Peoria, Ill., denied making the call when confronted by FBI agents.
Prosecutors believe al Hawsawi transferred tens of thousands of dollars to the Sept. 11 hijackers before the attacks.
Prosecutors contend that Ali al Marri, as "an associate of al Qaida," ran a credit card scam to help finance terrorist activities.
He is a Qatari citizen but his wife, Maha, has Saudi Arabian citizenship.
Marri was arrested and is now being tried by a grand jury in New York's 7th District.
"There were credit card fraud charges against her husband, but there were absolutely no charges against the wife," said embassy spokesman Jubair.
He said Maha al Marri was moved to Washington from Peoria because U.S. officials wanted to interview her. "She was here for 11 months but nobody spoke to her," Jubair said, adding that the embassy spent more than $180,000 to keep her and her five children in Washington.
This, he said, does not include the legal charges, which are also being paid by the Saudi Embassy. Maha al Marri has three attorneys.
Jubair said the woman could not speak English, had no relatives here and the embassy had to bring her brother from the kingdom to stay with her.
"Mrs. al Marri had no money or means of economic support. She was suffering from Graves's disease and was in need of medical attention. Her children could not attend schools. To prevent Mrs. al Marri from rejoining her family for such a long period of time is unreasonable and unjust."
He said the embassy was also afraid that immigration officials might arrest Maha al Marri if she overstayed her visa. "This has happened to several Saudi citizens after 9-11. They were stopped for investigation. Charges against them were proven false and they were allowed to leave the country but when they arrived at the airport, they were arrested by immigration officials for overstaying their visas," said Jubair.