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Bishop Riah Detained and Searched at Tel Aviv Airport
Shin Bet interrogates Anglican Bishop over Vanunu ties

By Yossi Melman, Ha'aretz Correspondent
Ha'aretz, May 30, 2004

Shin Bet security service interrogators conducted a body and property search of the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, the Right Reverend Riah Abu El-Assal, in connection with the controversies surrounding freed nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu.

The bishop said interrogators hinted that Vanunu should vacate the St. George Church in Jerusalem, where he has stayed since his release from prison on April 18.

"Although they did not act in a vulgar manner, and offered me coffee, which I declined, it was humiliating," the bishop told Haaretz on Saturday night. He said he has written a report on the incident and will protest to President Moshe Katsav.

The interrogators wanted to know if Bishop El-Assal was involved in the interview initiated by British journalist Peter Hounam and facilitated by Israeli journalist and translator Yael Lotan.

The bishop said he was questioned at noon on Friday when he returned from a trip to Jordan. "First, they searched my body," he said, "then they photographed me and I was taken to a side room, where I was questioned."

The questioning lasted about an hour and a half - he told Haaretz it was the first time he has been interrogated since he was appointed in 1996.

Bishop El-Assal gave the following account of some of the questioning:

Q. We know that Vanunu is with you.

A. "True, since April 21 he has received sanctuary in the church. I believe that Vanunu has the right to be free, and I have a duty toward him, like to other members of the community."

Q. What did you do in Jordan?

A. "I took part in the Hashemite Kingdom's Independence Day celebrations, and I dedicated a church school."

Q. Have you heard of Peter Hounam? Do you meet with journalists?

A. "Yes. Often."

Q. Have you met recently [with Hounam]?

A. "No."

Q. What about the recording [of the interview given by Vanunu]?

A. "I don't know anything about it. I was in Jordan..."

The Bishop told Haaretz that after he returned from Jordan, there was an envelope on his desk addressed to "Alexander."

He told his secretary to wait for this person to come and pick up the envelope, which apparently contained the tape of the interview.

"I receive hundreds of letters and envelopes from visitors to the church, and it isn't my business to check their contents, if they are not addressed to me. I don't check them."

The "Alexander" in question came a few days later, and picked up the envelope, the bishop said.

Asked if Vanunu's presence in the church has caused it any problems, El-Assal replied: "He doesn't cause any difficulty. You [Israelis] are turning him into a hero."

On Wednesday, the Shin Bet arrested Hounam on suspicion that he was involved in interviewing Vanunu, in contravention of the limitations placed on the former nuclear technician upon his release from jail.

Hounam, who left the country Friday, said that Israel should be ashamed for arresting him.


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