US Congressman calls on Egypt to release 'spy'

AP News
Posted: Jun 22, 2011 4:19 PM
US Congressman calls on Egypt to release 'spy'

U.S. Congressman Gary Ackerman called on Egyptian authorities Wednesday to release a constituent and former intern whom Egypt accuses of being an Israeli spy.

Ilan Grapel was arrested at a Cairo hotel last week and suspected of sedition and inciting Egyptians to clash with the country's military leadership. Grapel's family says he was spending the summer in Cairo as an intern at a legal aid group. Israel has denied the 27-year-old Grapel is a spy.

The arrest came as the military faces criticism of how it is running the country and resonates among Egyptians looking for someone outside to blame.

It has set off new fears in Israel that relations with Egypt will sour now that its longtime president, Hosni Mubarak, has been deposed.

Since Mubarak's ouster, Egypt's military rulers have often warned against unspecified "foreign" attempts to destabilize the country. Egypt, like other Arab states, has a long history of blaming internal problems on Israeli saboteurs.

Ackerman, a Democrat from New York and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says the accusations are bogus, and a breakdown of Grapel's travels proves Egypt's claims to be wrong. Reports in Egypt have him taking part in demonstrations in February, though his mother and classmates say he was in university until May.

"Someone needs to be a grown-up over there and look at the timeline," Ackerman told The Associated Press. "The quicker they complete their investigation, the sooner they will come to the realization that they don't have what they originally though they had."

Ackerman said he has personally intervened with Egyptian officials on Grapel's behalf. He said Grapel was a U.S. law student and served as his intern in 2002.

"He is not a spy. He is a kid in college, acting like a kid in college," he said. "He is a momentary distraction from what their situation and problems are."

Grapel, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, served as a paratrooper in the Israeli army. His parents said he never worked in intelligence.

He appears to have traveled to Egypt under his real name and made no secret of his Israeli links, including his past military service, which are easy to find on the Internet.

Grapel was wounded in the 2006 war between the Israeli military and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas. Israeli news websites have published what they identified as wartime pictures of Grapel lying in his hospital bed. Grapel later returned to the U.S. for law school.

Grapel graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2005 with a bachelor's degree in international studies and was planning to return to Emory for his third and final year of law studies.

"The facts will quickly bear out that this is a young man who is guilty of being a young man and doing silly things," Ackerman said.

"I would describe this as an understandable mistake that should be quickly remedied before it creates the notion that the streets of Egypt are not welcoming to foreigners of any type, even those who are very sympathetic to Egypt," he said.