Palestinian Sentenced for al-Qaida Study
AP February 03, 2003
EREZ, Gaza Strip – An Israeli military court sentenced a Palestinian man to 27 years in jail on Monday for training with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network and planning to carry out attacks against Israelis. The case of Nabil Okal, 29, marked the first time Israel has convicted a Palestinian of having ties to al-Qaida, the Israeli military said. Other Palestinians who allegedly worked with the network have been arrested but not yet indicted.
As a member of the Islamic militant group Hamas operating in the Gaza Strip , Okal, traveled to Afghanistan in 1998 where he met a deputy of bin Laden, and attended a training camp, according to the indictment. At the camp, Okal learned how to make bombs, including those with chemical substances. He was arrested in June 2000 in the Gaza Strip on his way back to Afghanistan to receive more training, the indictment said.
Okal’s lawyer, Tamim Younis, said his client denies all the Israeli allegations. Okal sat quietly in the courtroom in a brown prison uniform with a green wool hat, listening as the sentence was read aloud in Hebrew and translated to him in Arabic. Military Prosecutor Capt. Ronen Shor told reporters that Okal never joined al-Qaida, but he trained with the group with the intent of bombing Israeli targets.
After the training in Afghanistan, Okal “came back to form and set up a military force to make military actions against Israeli targets here in the Gaza Strip and also here in Israel,” Shor said. Prosecutors did not link Okal to any attacks that were actually carried out. Okal’s activities abroad began in 1997 when he traveled from his birthplace, the Jebaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, to Pakistan to study Islam, according to the indictment. Okal received weapons training there, then traveled to Afghanistan.
In Kabul, Okal met bin Laden deputy Abu Hamza, the indictment said. After Okal passed a security check, he went to the eastern Afghan town of Jalalabad where he participated in a monthlong training camp. Upon his return, Okal met in 2000 with the Hamas spiritual leader in the Gaza Strip, Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Okal and another suspect in Israeli custody, Mahmed Abu Libdeh, received Yassin’s blessing and $5,000 to travel to Afghanistan for more training.
Hamas leaders have denied that they sent Palestinians to Afghanistan to receive weapons training. Okal received a permit from Israel to travel to Jordan, purportedly for medical treatments, the indictment said. But when Okal tried to pass into Egypt from the Gaza Strip, he was arrested. Younis, the defense lawyer, said the severity of the sentence reflects a hardened opinion in Israel and the world on such subjects since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States.