World and Nation

Prisoner X linked to Dubai assassination in new report

JERUSALEM — The Australian-Israeli man recently identified as Prisoner X — found dead in 2010 in a maximum-security prison cell — may have been involved in the assassination of a Hamas leader that year, an episode that was among the most embarrassing in the history of Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad.

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida reported Thursday that Ben Zygier, who immigrated to Israel from Australia and apparently spent a decade working for the Mossad, was among the 26 suspects in the assassination plot, in which Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Hamas official, was drugged and suffocated in his hotel room in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Al Jarida, a liberal opposition newspaper, said that Zygier had provided the authorities in Dubai with “names and pictures and accurate details” in exchange for protection, but Israel kidnapped him from a hiding place and imprisoned him on charges of treason about a month after the Jan. 19, 2010, operation.

The Dubai plot, for which Israel has never acknowledged responsibility, led to diplomatic sanctions against Israel because fake passports from Europe and Australia were used in the operation. Australian journalists reported Thursday that Zygier, one of several people under investigation by the Australian intelligence service on suspicion of passport fraud, was arrested just before he was set to disclose Israeli secrets about the passports to the Australian government or the news media.

The reports quoted a security official with knowledge of the case as saying that Zygier “may well have been about to blow the whistle, but he never got the chance.”

The Israeli prime minister’s office and the Justice Ministry declined to comment on the emerging details in a case that has dominated the news here for days, more than two years after what appeared to be the suicide of a man known only as Prisoner X was revealed in local news reports that the government immediately quashed.

Politicians, journalists and human rights advocates have questioned the appropriateness of Zygier’s secret detention; the circumstances around his death by hanging, which was ruled a suicide despite his cell having been under constant surveillance; and the extraordinary court order that barred local reporting on the entire episode.

“The Prisoner X affair is a classic story of Israeli failure,” read the headline over a column by Amir Oren in the left-leaning daily newspaper Haaretz.