Alleged spy arrested in Egypt is US law student

June 13, 2011 - 9:29 AM

JERUSALEM (AP) — A man who Egyptian authorities have arrested on charges of being an Israeli spy is a 27-year-old American-Israeli law student who was doing an internship at a nonprofit organization in Cairo, a classmate said Monday.

Egypt says Ilan Grapel is a Mossad agent, and pictures of him in Israeli military uniform have been published in Egyptian papers. The semiofficial Al-Ahram daily identified him in a headline as a "Mossad officer who tried to sabotage the Egyptian revolution."

However, Will Felder, a 29-year-old law student at Emory University in Atlanta identified Grapel as a classmate originally from Queens, New York.

Grapel moved to Israel, where his grandparents live, as a young man and did his compulsory military service during the 2006 war between the Israeli military and Hezbollah.

He was wounded in the fighting, Felder said, and Israeli news websites on Monday published what they said were old pictures of Grapel lying in his hospital bed.

Grapel later returned to the U.S. for law school and was in Cairo doing a legal internship with a local nonprofit organization ahead of his return to Emory for his third and final year of studies, Felder said.

"His parents became concerned because he hadn't shown up for work," Felder said, and then saw their son's name being reported as that of "a Mossad spy who had been arrested."

An acquaintance in Israel, Ziki Ud, told Israel Radio that Grapel had an avid interest in the Middle East and had studied Arabic. Ud, too, said he doubted the allegations were true.

The fact that Grapel appears to have been traveling under his real name, and that his connections to Israel would have been easy to find on the Internet, also appear to suggest it was unlikely he was a spy.

A 2006 New York Daily News story, for example, reported that Grappel had been wounded by shrapnel in fighting in south Lebanon. The same article said he studied international relations at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and moved to Israel in 2005.

The Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, citing security sources, said Grapel had recently attended protests and "incited the protesters to acts of riots and sabotage." It said he also tried to "plot discord between the people and the army." The army has controlled Egypt since the authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak was deposed in a wave of popular protests earlier this year.

Grapel was equipped with "communication devices, laptops, CDs, and flash memory," the paper reported.

Egypt, like other Arab states, has a long history of blaming internal problems on Israeli saboteurs.

Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said Egyptian authorities have yet to officially inform Israel about the arrest of an Israeli citizen on espionage charges.

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Associated Press Writer Maggie Michael reported from Cairo.

(This version CORRECTS spelling of name to Grapel, based on information from friend.)