Representatives of the US embassy in Cairo visited Ilan Grapel on Monday and were providing him assistance, as is done for all American citizens arrested overseas, a US State Department official said. "The Embassy will work with local authorities to make sure he is being treated fairly under local law, provide information about the legal system and facilitate communication with family and friends in the US," the official said.
On Sunday, Egyptian Judge Hesham Badawi of the supreme state security prosecution ordered Grapel to be detained for 15 days on suspicion of "spying on Egypt with the aim of harming its economic and political interests," MENA news agency reported, while claiming that he worked for the Mossad, Israel’s espionage agency.
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Irene Grapel, the mother of the alleged spy, said that she spoke with her son in a telephone conversation facilitated by the US Embassy in Cairo on Monday, in which he assured her he was not hurt and had been allowed to meet with US diplomats in Egypt. Irene Grapel made the comments in an interview with Army Radio.
Ilan's father, Daniel, said his son was a student who volunteered for a US refugee agency and described Egypt's allegations as "totally delusional."
"This whole story is totally delusional as far as I am concerned ... any connection to working with the Mossad is [wrong]," Daniel Grapel told Channel 2 News in an interview from his home in New York.
He added that Ilan was working in Egypt as part of his university studies.
"He is volunteering as part of his studies and he gets (academic) credits for summer work ... He had to stay in Egypt for three months as part of the American agency that is connected with transferring refugees from Egypt," he said.
Egyptian officials told the Jerusalem Post that the 27-year-old had been arrested at his hotel over the weekend because he was asking questions of people involved in the recent uprising and otherwise trying to monitor the activities of the activists. One judiciary source said that Grapel had been active in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the revolt against Mubarak, after the former president stepped down.
"He was there on a daily basis inciting youths towards sectarian strife. He was distributing money to some of them," the source said, adding he had been encouraging some youths to clash with the army. He said youths reported the man's actions.
Irene Grapel told Army Radio that the allegations against her son were "totally false." She said that he was simply "in the wrong place at the wrong time."
However, a report published in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Saba'a claimed that Grapel entered Egypt on a fake visa. The report said Grapel entered the country posing as a journalist for an American newspaper.
Grapel is an American citizen who served in the IDF Paratrooper’s Brigade during the Second Lebanon War and interned last summer at the Israeli Supreme Court.
Grapel, originally from New York, moved to Israel after graduating from Johns Hopkins University in the US and enlisted in the IDF.
He was wounded during fighting against Hezbollah guerillas in the southern Lebanese town of Taibe in August, 2006. In an interview to the New York Daily News in 2006, Irene Grapel said her son decided to enlist in the IDF since he "didn't want a boring life" and craved some adventure before enrolling in graduate school.
A friend of Grapel’s told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that he had worked as an intern at the Israel Project – an Israel advocacy organization - in 2008 and had studied Arabic and even lived for short period of times with Druse communities in northern Israel. He frequently traveled throughout the Arab world.
In recent years he was a student at Emory Law School and even interned at the Israeli Supreme Court, according to the Emory Law School website.
“You could call him something of an Arabist,” one friend said. Another friend said Grapel was “pro-Arabic” and liked “hanging out in Egypt.”
In his Facebook account, Grapel cited “preaching” at Azhar University in Egypt as his job, likely a joke.
“He probably went there for an adventure and to see Tahrir Square,” the friend said. “He is very left-wing and has been in Cairo before for months at a time.”
“I was very surprised and the way I know Ilan he is not like this and has always been concerned with human rights and Palestinian rights,” another friend Shmuel said.
An Israeli official on Monday night said reports on Grapel working as a Mossad spy in Egypt have no basis in reality, Israel Radio reported.
Earlier, the Foreign Ministry said that it had yet to receive details from Egypt regarding the arrest of an Israeli citizen. A government source said that Israel was assuming that Grapel was the detained Israeli after matching the pictures that appeared in the Egyptian press with those that appeared on his Facebook page.
JPost.com staff and Reuters contributed to this report.