NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A Queens man held in prison in Egypt for almost five months is back on U.S. soil.
Ilan Grapel arrived in New York Saturday morning. He was released from Egypt on Thursday.
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Grapel was met at Kennedy Airport by a small group of family and friends carrying red, white and blue balloons.
“It’s hard for me to describe it, honestly,” Grapel said.
The 27-year-old law student was arrested in Cairo in June, accused of being an Israeli spy. He was held in an Egyptian prison for four months. Grapel, who holds both an American and Israeli citizenship, was suspected of trying to sabotage the revolution in Egypt.
“When your life flashes before your eyes, you start to think back to the times when I was living in New York for 18 years, playing basketball in south Jamaica, going to high school in the Bronx, those are things you think about,” he said.
Grapel’s mother Irene, who met her son in Israel, said she’s grateful to have him home. “Here we are,” she said. “All I can say is God bless America.”
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“The charges are completely fictitious,” Grapel’s father Daniel said. “We said it right from the beginning, it has no bearing in reality.”
Queens Congressman Gary Ackerman, who helped secure his release, was also with Grapel when he landed. Grapel once worked for Ackerman.
There is a big party planned Saturday night in Oakland Gardens, Queens to welcome him home, but the first stop will be IHOP. Grapel said he’s been craving chocolate chip pancakes.
Grapel was traded for 25 Egyptians held in Israeli jails. He was working for a legal aid group when he was arrested and thanked everyone who helped bring him home.
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