Australian foreign minister says officers knew of Prisoner X’s incarceration

(JTA) — Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr said officers in his department were aware that an Australian national was being held in secret in an Israeli prison.

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Carr said Wednesday he was acting on the advice of the on Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade when he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s Foreign Correspondent program that the Australian government did not know about the imprisonment of dual Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier, known in Israel as Ben Alon, until after his death, The Australian newspaper reported.

The Australian program reported Tuesday that the man referred to in Israel as Prisoner X, believed to be Zygier was jailed in early 2010 and apparently committed suicide two years ago in the high-security Ayalon Prison near Tel Aviv. The report suggested that he worked for Israel’s Mossad secret service. 

Carr has ordered the Foreign Affairs department to review the case, according to the newspaper.

A gag order placed on the case in 2010 in Israel was lifted on Wednesday.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Wednesday that at the time that Zygier died in Ayalon Prison, he was under investigation by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, under suspicion of using his Australian passport to spy for Israel. He was reportedly one of three dual citizens under investigation at that time. Zygier reportedly also used the alias Ben Allen.

Meanwhile, Israeli Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem met with the Australian Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop on Wednesday. Bishop said prior to the meeting that she would raise the issue of Zygier as well as her concerns about the censoring of news reports by Israel.

Israeli Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman was pressed by Israeli lawmakers about the issue on Tuesday during a televised Knesset session. Ne’eman responded: “I cannot answer these questions,” Ne’eman responded, “because the matter does not fall under the authority of the justice minister. But there is no doubt that if true, the matter must be looked into.”

“Foreign Correspondent” reported that Zygier was 34 at the time of his death and had moved to Israel about 10 years earlier. He was married to an Israeli woman and had two small children.

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s website, Zygier was found hanged in a cell with state-of-the-art surveillance systems that are installed to prevent suicide. Guards reportedly tried unsuccessfully to revive him. His body was retrieved and flown to Melbourne, where he was buried.

The network said it “understands that he was recruited by the spy agency Mossad.”

Zygier’s family declined to speak to the news program, which reported that friends and acquaintances approached by “Foreign Correspondent” also refused to comment.

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