Whatever happened to Israeli 'atomic spy' Vanunu?

Mordechai Vanunu is to be released from an Israeli prison in April 2004, five months before the end of his 18-year sentence. He was convicted of espionage and treason after leaking information about Israel's nuclear arsenal to the London Sunday Times in 1986.

Mr. Vanunu's family emigrated to Israel from Morocco in 1954, when Mordechai was a child. After serving in the military from 1971 to '74, he worked as a technician in the highly secret Dimona nuclear research center. He began studies at Ben Gurion University in '79, where he became active in politics, opposing Israel's invasion of Lebanon and the Dimona center.

In 1986, Vanunu went back to work at Dimona. He smuggled in a camera and took photos. Then he resigned, taking the pictures with him. He traveled through Asia, and ended up in Australia, where the Times contacted him.

The Times brought him to England, where he disclosed that Israel had become an important nuclear power, with some 200 warheads.

Soon after Vanunu's expose, Israeli agents lured him to Italy. He was brought to Israel, where he was tried and convicted in secret. He spent 11-1/2 years in Ashkelon prison in solitary confinement. In 1998 he was moved to a general cell.

According to Felice Cohen-Joppa, coordinator of the United State Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu, "although many Israelis are very angry ... [with Vanunu] and what he did, there is growing support [for him]." In fact, Israel's parliament recently debated the issue of nuclear weapons for the first time.

Amnesty International and other organizations support Vanunu's actions and have demanded his release. In 1987, Vanunu received The Right Livelihood Award. He has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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