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Australian Jewry has broken its silence about the case of alleged Mossad agent Ben Zygier, with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) on Tuesday welcoming announcements by the Australian and Israeli governments of further inquiries into the circumstances surrounding Zygier’s death.
“We welcome the fact that the Israeli parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Subcommittee for Intelligence and the Israeli State Attorney’s office, part of the Ministry of Justice, have both announced that they will be conducting investigations into the circumstances surrounding Ben Zygier’s death,” said ECAJ President Dr. Danny Lamm.
“We also welcome the inquiries being undertaken by Australia’s Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the fact that he has invited the Israeli authorities to have an input into those inquiries,” Lamm added.
New details continue to emerge on Zygier, who was known as “Prisoner X.” Israel’s Maariv newspaper reported on Tuesday that Zyguer hanged himself in Israel’s Ayalon Prison by tying a bed sheet to the steel bars of the window in his cell’s bathroom, and then standing on a stool.
According to Australian media reports, Zygier, a 34-year-old dual Israeli and Australian national, revealed details of Mossad operations to Australian intelligence. He was then reportedly held in isolation in Israel’s most secure, supposedly suicide-proof prison cell, originally built to hold then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir.
Citing the Israel Prison Service report written up immediately after Zygier’s suicide in December 2010, Maariv reported that Zygier woke up on the morning of Dec. 15, 2010, ate his breakfast, and took the sheet that covered his mattress to the bathroom, the only area in his cell which is not monitored by security cameras. Zygier reportedly told his guards that he was taking the sheet to the bathroom to wash it. He then apparently tied the sheet to the steel bars of the bathroom window, stood on a stool, and hanged himself.
According to the Prison Service report, Zygier had not been considered a suicide risk. His guards had not carried out checks on him every few minutes, but rather at intervals of 20-25 minutes. On Tuesday, the Israeli State Prosecution said it would not object to having part of the report declassified, Army Radio reported. The radio station reported that the state filed an official response to a court petition to mandate the report’s publication.
Israeli lawmakers on Sunday announced plans to investigate Zygier’s death, which a judge has ruled was a suicide. Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has initiated an inquiry into his department’s handling of the case.
“We look forward to the official inquiries publishing concrete information about the circumstances surrounding the death of Ben Zygier in the hope that it will put further rumor and speculation to rest and bring some comfort to his still-grieving family and friends,” ECAJ’s Lamm said Tuesday.
According to Melbourne’s The Age newspaper, Jewish community sources told Fairfax Media that the Australian Jewish community’s hesitation in commenting publicly on Zygier before Tuesday arose from respect for Zygier’s family, which—apart from a brief expression of loss and grief to the Australian Financial Review—has not spoken publicly, and because community leaders had no information on the case other than what was being reported in the media.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said Zygier had met officers from Australia’s domestic spy agency ASIO and had given details of a number of Mossad operations.
Quoting undefined sources, the ABC, which broke the initial story about Zygier’s secret arrest and death in prison, said that on one of his four trips to Australia, Zygier had also applied for a work visa to Italy.
But the Mossad became concerned when it discovered Zygier had contact with the Australian spy agency, the ABC reported, adding it was worried he might pass on information about a major operation planned for Italy. ABC said Zygier was one of three Australians who changed their names several times and took out new Australian passports for travel in the Middle East and Europe for their work with the Mossad.
The closely guarded case of Zygier has raised questions in Australia and Israel about the suspected use by the Mossad of dual Australian-Israeli nationals.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday sought to reduce media attention on the case and said he “absolutely trusts” Israel’s security services and what he described as the independent legal monitoring system under which they operate.
Australia’s Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, who is in charge of ASIO, on Monday said he would not comment on intelligence matters or suggestions that ASIO had exposed Zygier’s identity.
Dreyfus also said he saw no need for a review of how the intelligence agencies handled the case.
“I haven’t seen any need either, for any such review to take place within the Attorney-General’s Department,” he told reporters.