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Fairy tale goes flat for Marine who wed princess

A former Marine and a young Bahraini royal whose story provided the basis for a made-for-television movie, “The Princess and the Marine,” have filed for divorce following their five-year marriage.
Baharani Princess Mariam Al Khalifa, 19, and Jason Johnson arrive for a political asylum hearing for the princess in San Diego in this July 17, 2000, file photo.Denis Poroy / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The five-year marriage is over between a former Marine and a young Bahraini royal whose story provided the basis for a made-for-television movie, “The Princess and the Marine.”

“It was what she wanted,” Jason Johnson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal of the divorce he and Meriam Al-Khalifa filed for Nov. 17, the day after their fifth wedding anniversary. It calls them “incompatible in marriage.”

Johnson, who had sneaked his beloved into the United States and was court-martialed over the relationship, cast the tale as a “Romeo and Juliet” love affair that disintegrated amid Las Vegas nightlife, opposition by his wife’s family, and at least one death threat.

Al-Khalifa was not represented by a lawyer in the divorce filing. No one answered her apartment door Monday and it was unclear whether she planned to stay in the United States.

Met at a mall
The story started in January 1999 when Johnson was stationed in Bahrain, an island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia. Al-Khalifa is one of five daughters of Sheik Abdullah bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, a distant relative of Bahrain’s king, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa.

They met at a mall and fell in love, though he was a Mormon and she was a Muslim, forbidden to marry a non-Muslim.

Her family ordered an end to the romance. They continued to secretly exchange letters through a store employee at the mall.

Johnson spirited Al-Khalifa to the United States when his tour of duty ended in November 1999, using forged documents and a disguise including a New York Yankees baseball cap.

Johnson was court-martialed over the incident, demoted and discharged from the Marines. Al-Khalifa sought political asylum in the United States.

The couple married in Las Vegas on Nov. 16, 1999, when he was 23 and she was 19.

Movie, talk show circuit
The story made headlines. Besides the TV movie, the couple made the rounds of television talk shows. They rented an apartment in Las Vegas and lived off money from the movie. Johnson got a job as a parking valet on the Las Vegas Strip.

He described constant tension with Al-Khalifa’s family, and said the FBI once told him they’d intercepted a man who said he’d been paid $500,000 to assassinate her.

Johnson said Al-Khalifa plunged into Las Vegas nightlife, partying with her friends and ignoring him.

About a year ago, Johnson said, Al-Khalifa left him. He lives now in Las Vegas with his stepmother.

“Deep down inside, she knows that I loved her more than anything in the world,” Johnson said. “I can say I enjoyed every minute I spent with her.”