EDITOR’S NOTE - The following story was submitted to the Israeli
EDITOR’S NOTE - The following story was submitted to the Israeli military censor, who made significant deletions.
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ Former nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, facing espionage charges for exposing Israel’s atomic secrets, flashed a message scrawled on the palm of his hand saying he was kidnapped in Rome.
The message was published Monday after a 20-hour censorship ban. Vanunu showed it to journalists by pressing his hand on the window of a police van on his way to court Sunday.
The note, written in English, said: ″Vanunu M. was hijacked in Rome ITl. 30.9.86 2100 Came to Rome by BA Fly 504.″
Vanunu apparently was indicating he came from London to Rome on British Airways Flight 504, was picked up there on Sept. 30 and brought to Israel. The figures ″2100″ would refer in military time to 9 p.m., apparently the time of his abduction.
The London Evening Standard reported Monday that Vanunu was lured from London to Rome by Cindy, a blonde Israeli agent of the Mossad secret service.
The Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot said Monday Vanunu might face new charges for revealing state secrets on his palm. Vanunu’s attorney, Amnon Zichroni, declined comment.
Vanunu, 32, is charged with aiding an enemy in wartime and two counts of aggravated espionage, defined as passing information with intent to harm. The wartime charge refers to the fact that Israel is in a technical state of war with several Arab nations.
The charges were filed after Vanunu told a London newspaper, the Sunday Times, that Israel built nuclear weapons for 20 years in an underground bunker near the southern Israeli town of Dimona.
Vanunu worked as a technician at Dimona for 10 years before he was discharged last year for economic reasons.
He gave the newspaper 60 photographs which he said he took with a camera smuggled into the facility, and also provided diagrams and information.
The newspaper checked with nuclear phycists who said the information showed Israel ranked as the world’s sixth nuclear power.
Israel has said in this regard only that it will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East.
Vanunu was last seen in London on Sept. 30. Israel revealed in November that he was being held incommunicado in jail in Israel.
The Rev. John McKnight, who converted Vanunu to Christianity last summer in Australia, has said he looked into Vanunu’s disappearance and found he was captured by Mossad agents and brought to Israel against his will.
Vanunu showed his message by raising his hand on the way to Jerusalem District Court, where he was ordered held in custody. Dozens of reporters saw the gesture, and photographers later developed their films and made enlarged photographs to read the writing.
Reporters fired questions at Vanunu as he left court, asking him where he was kidnapped. Vanunu shouted ″Italy 3/8″ and a policeman clamped a hand over the prisoner’s mouth. That single-word answer, too, was initially censored by Israel.
Vanunu did not say in his message how he was brought to Israel, and Israel has refused to say.
Israel assured Britain it broke no laws by bringing Vanunu to Israel, but the new revelations could raise problems with authorities.
Italy’s ambassador to Israel, Giovanni Dominedo, told The Associated Press Monday: ″I know nothing about this. Sorry, I have no information.″
In Rome, officials reported that the Italian government on Monday asked the ambassador to seek an explanation about reports that Vanunu was kidnapped in Rome. the officials, speaking on the usual condition of anonymity, said there would be no immediate comment until the government had gathered the necessary information.
Vanunu could be convicted whether or not his information was correct. He could face a death sentence, but the prosecution is expected to ask for a life term.
The trial is expected to start next month. It will probably be held behind closed doors like previous Israeli espionage cases.