Australian security officials suspect that Ben Zygier, who reportedly committed suicide in an Israeli prison in 2010, may have been about to reveal information about Israeli intelligence operations, including the use of fraudulent Australian passports for espionage purposes, either to the Australian government or to the media before he was arrested, the Brisbane Times reported Thursday.
Zygier "may well have been about to blow the whistle, but he never got the chance,'' an Australian security official was quoted by the newspaper as saying.
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According to the report, sources in Canberra are "insistent" that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) was not informed by its Israeli counterparts of the precise nature of the espionage allegations against Zygier. "However, it is understood that the Melbourne law graduate had been in contact with Australian intelligence officers," the Brisbane Times reported.
On Wednesday it was reported that Zygier was interrogated by the ASIO regarding the use of Australian passports along with other people who hold dual Israeli-Australian citizenship.
Earlier on Thursday Kuwait's Al-Jarida newspaper quoted Western sources a saying that Zygier was one of the members of the squad which assassinated senior Hamas terrorist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010.
Alleged Mossad hitmen in Dubai (L) and Zyglier
The same sources noted that following the mission, Zygier contacted the government in Dubai and updated it on the details of the assassination in exchange for protection. The sources also said that Israel managed to uncover Zygier's hiding place, kidnapped him and jailed him for treason, and all this while maintaining absolute secrecy. The report has not been confirmed by any other sources.
The Brisbane Times said Israeli intelligence informed ASIO of Zygier's arrest and detention just eight days after authorities in Dubai had revealed that suspected Israeli agents had used fraudulent Australian passports in the assassination of Mabhouh.
According to the newspaper, the subsequent crisis in Australian-Israeli intelligence relations "provided the context in which the Australian diplomats did not seek consular access to Zygier, who was regarded by Australian security officials as a potential whistleblower on Israeli intelligence operations."
Meanwhile, Zygier family friend Henry Greener said Thursday it was clear there was something "suspicious and underhanded about Ben's death and nobody wanted to go there because of the suppression order in Israel.
"But now that the cat's been let out of the bag, we are going to find out a lot more, and in that process I think there should be justice for Ben, to find out what happened – because nobody really knows," he said.
In an interview with Fairfax Media, Greener, who went to school with Zygier's orthodox father and attended the same synagogue as the family, described Zygier as a friendly, warm and outgoing man who loved the outdoors.
"He loved adventure and the outdoors – he wasn't one of these people stuck in front of the computer all day," Greener said.
Israel acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that it held the Australia-born dual Israeli citizen under a false name for security reasons and that he died in prison more than two years ago - details that shed new light on a case that has strained relations with its close ally Australia and raised questions about its secretive Mossad agency.
AP contributed to the report