The identity of Israel’s "Prisoner X" was revealed Tuesday as Ben Zygier on Australia’s “Foreign Correspondent” program, as previously reported on IBTimes, and Israel Wednesday lifted a gag order to confirm his identity.
Israel also revealed that Australia’s Foreign Ministry knew of Prisoner X’s existence as early as February 2010, in direct contradiction of Foreign Minister Bob Carr's claims.
The main mystery surrounding the extraordinary secrecy surrounding Prisoner X and Zygier’s identity remains as Israel has yet to discuss why the Australian citizen, who may have been an agent of Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, was imprisoned or what crimes he was charged with, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Israel confirmed it held a foreign individual in a secret, special isolation cell.
Israel’s Justice Ministry released a statement confirming the existence of such a prisoner but did not name Zygier directly. Initial reports were that Australia and its diplomats did not know of their national's existence until after he committed suicide in his cell, which had security and surveillance measures in place to prevent such an act, in December 2010. But according to the statement, “For security reasons the man was held under a false identity although his family was immediately informed of his arrest.”
More biographical details were revealed in ABC News’ update. Zygier, an Australian Jew, was a student at the University of Melbourne, where he studied law, and he later moved to Israel and served in the military there. As previously reported, Zygier also went by the names Ben Alon or Ben Allen and was incarcerated at Ayalon Prison.
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Speaking to ABC's “Foreign Correspondent” program, Carr had to admit he lied about the government being unaware of Zygier’s existence. Previously he had told ABC, “It's never been raised with me. I'm not reluctant to seek an explanation from the Israeli government about what happened to Mr Allen and about what their view of it is.” But after the news broke on Monday, Carr admitted that the government was aware of the prisoner as early as February 2010.
In a statement issued after the initial report, a spokeswoman for Carr said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade “has now advised that some officers of the department were made aware of Mr. Allen's detention at the time in 2010 by another Australian agency.”
Carr elaborated on the government’s knowledge of the prisoner Wednesday morning, saying, “I'm advised in the form of an interim report that the Australian government was informed in February 2010, through intelligence channels, that the Israeli authorities had detained a dual Australian-Israeli citizen - and they provided the name of the citizen,” reports ABC News. It is expected that the department will issue a report on the Prisoner X affair by the end of the week.
The New York Times is reporting that prior to Zygier's incarceration Australia was investigating him as a possible spy. Israel’s acknowledgement of the prisoner was the first time it had done so, temporarily lifting a rare gag order. Israel’s statement also contradicts some of the initial reports stating that Zygier had legal representation and his case was reviewed by the Justice Ministry, reports NYT. Israel’s politicians are also debating the Prisoner X situation, with some calling for an investigation while others say the secrecy was necessary to prevent other spy operations from being compromised.