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(photo credit: Associated Press)
The FBI and local investigators said Monday that they are interested in a television station's tape of a purported interview with a West Bank man who says he paid for a 16-year-old American girl to fly to the Middle East after meeting her on the Internet.
Katherine R. Lester disappeared June 5 from her home in rural Michigan. After the FBI helped track her to the airport in Amman, Jordan, US authorities persuaded her to board a return flight. She returned home Friday night.
Authorities have said the girl apparently planned to visit a man who describes himself as a 25-year-old from Jericho on his account with MySpace.com, a social networking Web site where the two met.
WNEM-TV in Saginaw broadcast a telephone interview with a man who said he actually was 20 and only identified himself as Abdullah.
In the interview Saturday, he said he was a wealthy businessman who met Lester online seven months ago. He said he wanted to marry her and sent her money for a plane ticket to visit him.
The station said it got the man's MySpace identity from Lester's sister, Mary, who found it on a computer they share. WNEM said it messaged him on MySpace and asked him for his cell phone number for an interview.
The Associated Press also messaged him and called the number, but he declined comment.
"We're aware of the existence of the tape," Tuscola County sheriff's Sgt. Michael Pine said. "We're talking to the FBI. It's part of the investigation."
Neither he nor FBI spokesman Terry Booth would say whether they had requested the tape from the station or whether they believed the man was who he said he was.
"I haven't seen the tape, so I can't comment on the accuracy," Booth said from Detroit.
Authorities were trying to determine whether any laws were broken. The age of sexual consent in Michigan is 16.
The girl was in seclusion to escape the attention surrounding her travels, an attorney for the girl's family said Monday.
"Katherine does not want the media attention. The parents don't want the media attention on their daughter," lawyer Renee Wood said.
Tuscola County Sheriff Tom Kern said the girl did not want to return home when authorities approached her at the airport in Amman, but once they realized she was 16 and her mother wanted her back, they seized her passport.
MySpace.com, owned by News Corp., has more than 72 million members that lets users post photos, Web logs and journals. Its popularity with teenagers has raised concerns, and there have been scattered accounts of sexual predators targeting minors they met through the site.