Israel has confirmed it had imprisoned a mystery foreigner in solitary confinement on security grounds who had committed suicide, without revealing his identity or the charges against him.
“The Israel Prisons Service (IPS) held a prisoner who was an Israeli citizen and also held foreign citizenship. For security reasons the man was held under a false identity although his family was immediately informed of his arrest,” a justice ministry statement said on Wednesday.
The statement did not confirm or deny media reports that the dead man was 34-year-old Ben Zygier, an Australian who moved to Israel and may have been jailed in isolation over suspected misconduct while spying for Mossad.
The Australian-Israeli citizen, who was found dead in an Israeli prison cell in 2010, was secretly held for several months and was suspected of links to Israel’s Mossad spy agency, the Australian government and national broadcaster said.
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) report, the man’s name was Ben Zygier also known as Ben Allen, an Australian immigrant to Israel who, it claimed, had worked for Mossad. It did not offer details on his arrest.
The report said he hanged himself in a cell that had been specially designed for the Jewish ultranationalist who assassinated then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
Australia’s department of foreign affairs and trade confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that the prisoner was an Australian citizen.
“The Australian embassy in Tel Aviv was unaware of this Australian’s detention until his death was reported by his family, who requested repatriation of his remains,” the statement said.
“The family has not asked for any further representations.”
Bob Carr, Australia’s foreign minister, said the concept of Australians working for Mossad was troubling. But Zygier’s family would need to contact him before he would take the matter further with Israel.
“Australians should not be working, performing intelligence gathering functions for a foreign government using their passport,” Carr told ABC.
In June 2010, the Israeli news website Ynet briefly reported on the existence of a prisoner, identified only as “Prisoner X”, whose crimes were unknown, but that report was removed from the site shortly after it was posted.
Ynet then reported on December 27, 2010, that a prisoner had committed suicide while in solitary confinement two weeks earlier.
That report, which said jailers took him down from his noose and unsuccessfully tried to revive him, was also quickly removed.
Israel’s military censor has the authority to block or even delete reports deemed threatening to national security. The censor’s office declined comment.