Brandy Chase was still in high school when terrorists attacked New York City and Washington, D.C.
After that horrific event, she planned to enlist in the military and help fight the war on terrorism.
But those plans soon changed.
Instead, the Mesa woman converted to Islam, then married Zakaria Soubra, a man federal authorities have linked to at least two of the Sept. 11, 2001, suspected highjackers.
Today, Chase is battling the U.S. government for information about her husband, who earlier this month was detained by federal officials as a material witness to the terror attacks.
Chase, an 18-year-old U.S. citizen who grew up in Tucson, claims federal authorities have been reluctant to give her information about Soubra, who is not her legal husband since the couple hasn't filed for a license.
The whereabouts and activities of Soubra have been wrapped in increased secrecy since federal authorities obtained a material witness warrant for him on Jan. 8, Chase said.
Soubra, 26, a former Tempe resident and flight school student, appeared Tuesday in Alexandria, Va., in front of a federal grand jury investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, said Chase. She recently was allowed to communicate with him after several weeks of silence. He is scheduled to appear again on Wednesday she said.
The grand jury is investigating various crimes associated with the terrorist attacks, including aircraft piracy, murder of U.S. government employees, and seditious conspiracy to levy war against the United States, according to the material witness warrant issued for Soubra.
Soubra, who is from Lebanon, arrived in the United States in August 2000 and enrolled in Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott.
According to the warrant, during this time, Soubra became associated with two of the 19 suspected hijackers thought responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. Federal authorities have identified Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi as likely hijackers of Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon, according to the warrant.
During several FBI interviews, Soubra admitted knowing and being associated with Hanjour and Alhazmi at the flight school and the Islamic Cultural Center in Tempe, the warrant said.
Before moving to Tempe, Soubra lived in London for two years and joined a radical Islamic group, according to the federal warrant. Soubra admitted to FBI agents that he belonged to Al Muhajiroun, a group that strongly supports the activities and beliefs of Osama bin Laden, according to the U.S. government. Soubra also told agents that he considered U.S. government and American military forces to be "legitimate military targets."
Soubra remained active with the group while living in Tempe and organized several Al Muhajiroun demonstrations supporting jihad — or holy war — in Chechnya, according to the warrant.
"I know that he respected Osama bin Laden," Chase said of her husband.
Chase met Soubra in May 2002 at a mosque in Tucson shortly after she converted to Islam.
"I don't know why I converted," said Chase, who was raised a Christian. "It just felt right."
Less than a week after the couple met, immigration officials took Soubra into custody for violating his student visa. Under the conditions of his visa, Soubra was required to enroll in 12 university credit hours. Soubra, an aerospace engineer major at Embry Riddle, enrolled in nine credit hours for the spring 2002 semester.
"The whole time I've known my husband he's been in prison," said Chase. "I feel robbed."
Although Soubra was in federal custody, Chase continued to visit him in prison every week. At one point she rode her bicycle from her parents’ home in Tucson to visit him. The couple was married at the prison Oct. 8 in a traditional Muslim ceremony.
Last May, Soubra initially was taken to an Immigration and Naturalization Service detention facility in Florence.
Although Soubra has not been charged with any crimes, he was kept under lock and key for eight months at the INS facility until Jan. 8, when he was scheduled for deportation to Lebanon.
While being driven to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, INS officials turned their vehicle around and took Soubra back to Florence, according to a letter Soubra wrote to Chase recently. Federal marshals then took custody of Soubra. He was not heard from for several weeks, until the letter arrived, said Chase, despite her efforts to contact him.
Government officials have refused to comment about Soubra since the warrant was issued despite repeated inquiries by the Tribune. Officials with the FBI, Department of Justice and INS all said they could not talk about Soubra's situation.
Chase said she disagrees with many of Soubra's political views regarding bin Laden. "I'm American, so I don't get it."
Soubra, in the letter, wrote that he was being held in protective custody at an unknown facility in Florence, where he was allowed to shower three times a week. During the week, Soubra wrote, he was confined to a small cell for 23 hours a day. On the weekends he was not allowed to leave his cell.
The CIA and the FBI offered Soubra a job, according to his letter. But Soubra wrote that he hopes to get out of prison soon to start his own business.
"I won't bother anymore to give my opinion about politics," Soubra told her in the letter. "All I do is sit in my cell and cry."
Meanwhile, Chase continues to wait for him to return home. In her small Mesa apartment she has packed up most of her belongings in case of eviction. Chase, who is unemployed, worries about making the $500 rent.
"If only my husband were here," she said.