Priest arrested in Las Vegas church attack

Associated Press/February 2, 2007

Las Vegas, Nevada -- A Roman Catholic priest who is accused of beating, groping and choking a soloist at his Las Vegas church was arrested Thursday in Arizona, authorities said.

The Rev. George Chaanine, 52, was taken into custody in Apache Junction, about 30 miles east of Phoenix, said Deb McCarley, a spokeswoman for the Phoenix office of the FBI.

Chaanine had been a fugitive since the alleged assault on January 26 at the Our Lady of Las Vegas parish office.

A judge issued a felony warrant Tuesday charging him with attempted murder, sexual assault, kidnapping and battery with a deadly weapon.

McCarley said Arizona authorities located Chaanine after receiving information from agents in Las Vegas.

"He was stopped, he was taken into custody without incident, he did not give chase," McCarley said.

According to a Las Vegas police report obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, the woman, who works at the parish office, told investigators she was sitting at her desk when Chaanine broke a full bottle of wine over her head, grabbed her hair and dragged her down a hall toward his office.

She fought back, lost consciousness and awoke with Chaanine groping her breasts and genitals, police said. She continued fighting until Chaanine straddled her and grabbed her throat, police said.

The woman told detectives she began to pray for her life before her attacker suddenly stopped. He muttered that he was going to kill himself, told the woman to wait 15 minutes, said he would call an ambulance and left the parish office, according to the police report.

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

In a statement from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas, Bishop Joseph Pepe praised authorities for finding Chaanine.

"We are relieved that Father Chaanine has been found and now justice can be served through the legal process," Pepe said. "We have worked closely with the authorities and are hopeful that the information we provided proved helpful."

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

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