Israel denies ‘Prisoner X’ contact

The Washington Post

Israel has denied that a reputed Australian-Israeli agent of its Mossad spy agency who committed suicide in secret custody in 2010 had contact with Australian intelligence services.

The statement issued Tuesday from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office is the first time Israel has named the reported spy, Ben Zygier, who had been widely referred to as Prisoner X, though it shed no light on the murky circumstances of his arrest.

Australian news media reports said Zygier, 34, was jailed after disclosing details of Mossad’s operations to the Australian intelligence service. But the Israeli statement denied that. “The prime minister’s office stresses that the late Mr. Zygier had no contact with the Australian security agencies,” it said.

The statement appeared to be an attempt to smooth over tensions with Australia, which said it would ask Israel for an explanation for Zygier’s death in a maximum-security cell. The case was kept secret by Israeli authorities for more than two years under a sweeping gag order before it was reported last week.

An Israeli inquest into Zygier’s death, released Tuesday by the Justice Ministry, showed he hanged himself in the bathroom of his cell using a rolled wet sheet tied to the bars of a window. A small amount of sedative was found in Zygier’s blood, suggesting that he was under some form of medical treatment.

Rejecting a request by state lawyers to close the case, the presiding judge recommended that those involved be prosecuted.