Possible Bin Laden Agent Nabbed

A Palestinian man is in Israeli custody on charges he was trained by Usama bin Laden and ordered to carry out large-scale attacks in Israel, such as planting bombs in apartment buildings and poisoning the water supply, an Israeli security official said.

The Palestinian suspect, Nabil Oukal, is a resident of the Gaza Strip refugee camp of Jebaliya, said the security official, speaking this week on condition of anonymity.

Oukal was arrested in June 2000 at the Rafah border crossing between Israel and Gaza and was arraigned two months later in an Israeli military court, which does not make its rulings public.

The official would not say whether Oukal has been convicted or whether the trial is ongoing. Oukal remains in custody, the official said.

Bin Laden is a prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington. The Saudi exile has been operating training camps for his operatives in Afghanistan, and has set up cells in dozens of countries, according to the United States.

A senior Palestinian security official confirmed that Oukal was arrested by Israel in June 2000. They said that at the time, he was en route to Jordan for medical treatment. The official denied Oukal had any ties to bin Laden.

The Israeli daily Haaretz said Oukal's alleged involvement began when he met in Pakistan with a Palestinian who called himself Abu Iyad Azam, an apparent nom de guerre.

Azam was a member of a group that assists bin Laden, the paper said, and it was Azam who sent Oukal to Afghanistan for training.

Israeli officials believe Azam serves as a sort of head of the Palestinian desk in bin Laden's network, the paper said.

Israeli security officials are investigating whether Azam is really Fayez Azam, a Muslim cleric and younger brother of Abdullah Azam, who served as one of bin Laden's spiritual mentors, Haaretz said. Abdullah Azam, originally from the West Bank town of Jenin, took an active part in the war against the Soviets in the early 1980s.

Fayez Azam is believed to have remained in Afghanistan and Pakistan, avoiding the attention of Israeli intelligence until his name came up in connection with Oukal, Haaretz said.

The Israeli security official said Oukal was trained in Afghanistan and ordered to set up a local terror cell upon his return to the Gaza Strip.

Oukal was asked to carry out large-scale attacks in Israel, such as planting bombs in apartment blocks, kidnapping Israeli soldiers and poisoning the water supply, according to the charge sheet.