The security prisoner who committed suicide in the Israeli prison Ayalon on December 15, 2010 was Ben Zygier, who took the Hebrew name Ben Alon, according to Australian journalist Trevor Bormann of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
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He had a third name, the one listed in his Australian passport: Ben Allen, reported Bormann in a special investigative report in ABC’s “Foreign Correspondent” series aired on Tuesday morning Israel time.
A native of Australia, Zygier was a Mossad and special-operations agent, Bormann claimed, adding that after his death, Zygier's body was flown to Melbourne for burial.
During the program, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr told Bormann he had not known of the affair and said he would be demanding explanations from Israel.
Bormann, who claims that the arrest and death of Zygier/Alon/Allen had been shrouded in secrecy, charges the Israeli government with concealing information and engaging in a coverup.
According to Bormann, Zygier was 34 years old at his death. He had been married to an Israeli woman and had two children.
He was found hanged in his cell in an isolated wing of the prison that was under constant observation. His funeral was held in Melbourne a week later.
According to Bormann, Zygier was “Prisoner X,” and while information about the mysterious prisoner had appeared on websites outside Israel, no such information appeared on Israeli websites. Nor at this point has his identity been confirmed by Israeli Prison Service personnel or by any other government officials. Allegedly, the imprisoned man's identity was even kept secret from his guards.
The whole affair has been one of the Israeli intelligence community’s most sensitive secrets, Bormann claims.
The report states that Zygier had been held in Ayalon Prison since 2010, in absolute isolation from the world. He was held incommunicado, in the cell that had been built for Yigal Amir, who murdered Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and allowed no visitors. Bormann reported that a gag order prevented the Israeli press from discussing the affair despite protests from civil-rights organizations.
Attorney Dan Yakir, chief legal counsel of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, refused to comment on the affair for the show in order not to violate the gag order, he explained.
Zygier’s death in prison thickened the fog surrounding his work for the Mossad and the reason for his arrest, says the Australian show, because he was found hanged in his cell despite the sophisticated surveillance systems whose entire purpose was to prevent suicides. The guards who found his body tried to resuscitate him, but to no avail.
The Zygier family lives in Malvern, a suburb of Melbourne, and is prominent in Melbourne’s Jewish community. Ben Zygier's body was flown to Melbourne and buried in the Chevra Kadisha Cemetery in the suburb of Springvale on December 22, 2010, a week after his death.
Relatives and family friends refused to speak with researchers from the ABC.
“In 2010 ASIO suspected that several Australian Jews were working for Mossad, after changing their names from European or Jewish names to Anglo names,” Bormann reported. “Then with new Australian passports and Australian accents, they could travel freely in the Arab world and to places like Iran, to destinations where no Israeli could venture.”
A former agent of the Australian Security Intelligence Service, Warren Reed, said on the program that countries such as Australia and New Zealand provided the perfect cover for intelligence work.
“Australians abroad are generally seen to be fairly innocent,” he said. “It’s a clean country. It has a good image like New Zealand. There aren’t many countries like that so our nationality and anything connected with it can be very useful in intelligence work.”
Officials of the Australian Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed that a passport with the name Ben Allen had been issued to Ben Zygier, who is also known as Ben Alon. Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr, who was interviewed on Bormann’s program, said that the report’s findings troubled him and that he would ask Israel for an explanation.
The reason Australia had not become involved in the affair, he said, was that Zygier’s family had not contacted consular authorities in Israel or Australia while Zygier was being held.
Carr added that without a complaint from Zygier’s family, the Australian government had no room to act on the matter. The Australian embassy in Israel learned of Zygier’s imprisonment only after his death, he said.
As for the reason Zygier was arrested, former ASIS agent Warren Reed says, “However the transgression came about, it would have to be involved with espionage, possibly treachery, but very, very sensitive information that, known to others, would pose an immediate threat to Israel as a nation state. But of course with a case of this sensitivity, we really have to expect we’ll probably never really know.”