x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Prisoner X was found hanged by a sheet in prison cell: court

At the request of Israel's justice ministry, the magistrate court in the city of Rishon Lezion releases details of a report concerning an official inquiry into the incident. reports from Ramallah

RAMALLAH // Israel said yesterday that an alleged Mossad agent who died in an Israeli jail in december 2010 was found hanged in his cell's bathroom.

The revelation is the latest twist in a scandal that has rocked Israel because of the extreme secrecy imposed by authorities over the imprisonment and death of the so-called "Prisoner X", identified by an Australian television expose last week as Ben Zygier, 34, who had dual Australian-Israeli citizenship.

In a report published on Monday, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said Zygier was arrested after giving the Australian intelligence agency a comprehensive account of a number of Mossad operations.

Former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said he believed it was "more serious" than a leak to Australia intelligence officials.

But Zygier had no connection to the Australian security services and organisations, said a statement yesterday from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Without explicitly confirming the prisoner was Zygier, the magistrate court in the city of Rishon Lezion yesterday confirmed yesterday that a dual citizen had been in custody and had posed a threat to the state. The December 15 date it gave for the detainee's death matched that of Zygier's gravestone in Melbourne.

At the request of Israel's justice ministry, the magistrate court in the city of Rishon Lezion yesterday released some details of a report concerning an official inquiry into the incident.

The murky circumstances of Zygier's death and subsequent attempts by authorities to silence reports on it have embarrassed Israel and strained its relations with Australia.

"The deceased was found hanging in the shower of his detention cell, with a sheet around his neck tied to the window of the bathroom," read the report, released after the court loosened a gag order on the investigation

Coming under heavy criticism for imposing strict secrecy on reports of Zygier's death, Israeli authorities have employed court gag orders, military censors and personal requests of restraint made to media representatives by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli-parliamentary committee announced on Sunday an "intensive examination" would be held into the Zygier affair. Israeli media also has reported that legal officials are examining whether to bring negligence charges against prison authorities over the death.

In her report, the judge said there was prima facie evidence that the Prisons Authority had been negligent but ruled out foul play on the basis of medical and physical evidence. Zygier reportedly committed suicide in a cell under constant surveillance by Israel's prison authorities.

His Australian friends were reported to have said he had bragged about working for Mossad, although an Australian journalist who interviewed the Melbourne native, a lawyer, in early 2010 said he vehemently denied the spying allegations.

A human rights lawyer last week who said he met Zygier shortly before his death confirmed he was an agent for the Israeli spy agency.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported a friend of Zygier describing how he discussed participating in Israeli intelligence operations in Lebanon. The friend was quoted as saying that Zygier "told me that he had been compelled to kill a boy and girl while providing security for an operation in Lebanon. He told me he was hospitalised for a month with shell shock".

An Australian newspaper reported last week that Zygier may have been arrested for attempting to expose information about the 2010 assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai by suspected Mossad agents. The assassins used three forged Australian passports.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that killing.


* With additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse