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Palestinian Sentenced to 27 Years

An Israeli military court convicts man of training with Al Qaeda. He denies the charge.

February 04, 2003|From Times Wire Services

EREZ, Gaza Strip — An Israeli military court sentenced a Palestinian man Monday to 27 years in prison for training with Al Qaeda -- the first such case since Israel began investigating possible links between Palestinian militants and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

Prosecutors charged that Nabil Okal, 29, had learned bomb-making at an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 1998 and planned to target Israelis.

They also said he was a member of the Islamic group Hamas. But Palestinian security officials said Okal had no known militant affiliations.

"I'm innocent!" Okal told reporters outside the court after it handed down the sentence.

But defense lawyer Andre Rosenthal said: "Okal confessed under interrogation to receiving training abroad, and this was cross-checked with third-party testimony.

"Still, 27 years still seems a bit much considering that he did not succeed in carrying out an attack. I'd say this exaggerated response is a reflection of world feeling after 9/11."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in December that Al Qaeda members had infiltrated the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and were working to target Israel. He did not provide details.

Palestinian leaders have denied any link to Al Qaeda, and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat has denounced Bin Laden.

Israeli military prosecutor Capt. Ronen Shor said Monday that Okal never formally became a member of Al Qaeda but trained with the group in Afghanistan.

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