Authorities escort the Rev. George Chaanine to a county jail Thursday in Phoenix.
updated 2/2/2007 4:53:20 PM ET 2007-02-02T21:53:20

A Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting a female worker at his Las Vegas parish before fleeing to Arizona could soon be extradited to Nevada, an FBI official said.

The Rev. George Chaanine, 52, was arrested without incident Thursday by FBI agents in Apache Junction, about 30 miles east of Phoenix, said Deb McCarley, a spokeswoman for the FBI office in Phoenix.

Chaanine was being held Friday in a county jail in Phoenix on a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. McCarley said that charge would most likely be dropped so Chaanine can be quickly extradited to Las Vegas, where he is wanted for attempted murder, sexual assault, kidnapping and battery with a deadly weapon.

After fleeing Las Vegas, Chaanine went to California and withdrew a large amount of money from his bank before traveling to Arizona, according to a probable cause statement filed in Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix. The document, released Friday, didn’t specify how much money he withdrew.

Chaanine declined an interview request from The Associated Press.

Chaanine, an administrator at Our Lady of Las Vegas parish, had been a fugitive since the alleged Jan. 26 assault of 54-year-old parish office worker.

The woman told Las Vegas police that she was sitting at her desk when Chaanine broke a full bottle of wine over her head, grabbed her by the hair and dragged her down a hall toward his office.

She fought back, lost consciousness, and awoke with Chaanine groping her, according to the police report. She continued fighting until Chaanine straddled her and grabbed her throat. She told detectives she began to pray for her life before the attack suddenly stopped.

The woman told police that after the attack Chaanine muttered that he was going to kill himself. He said he would call an ambulance and left the church, she told police.

Chaanine has been suspended with pay from his position as church administrative pastor.

Chaanine, a native of Lebanon, was ordained in 1996 and worked at churches in Detroit; Youngstown, Ohio; El Paso, Texas; and Wheeling, W.Va., before beginning work at Our Lady of Las Vegas in 2004, the diocese said.

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