JERUSALEM — Israeli police detained nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu at a checkpoint Friday as he tried to go to the West Bank town of Bethlehem, preventing him from attending midnight Mass in the place where tradition says Jesus was born, a police spokesman said.
Vanunu, a Jewish convert to Christianity, was released from an Israeli prison in April after serving a 17 1/2-year sentence for revealing secrets of Israel's nuclear program.
Under the terms of his release, the former technician at the nuclear facility in the Negev desert town of Dimona was barred from leaving Israeli territory and contacting foreigners.
Police spokesman Gil Kleiman said Vanunu had been stopped at a checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which is four miles away.
Kleiman said Vanunu was in a Volkswagen van emblazoned with the letters "TV" -- commonly used to identify press vehicles -- and had a Santa Claus hat in his possession.
"He said he wanted to pray at the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve, even though he knew it was illegal for him to leave Israel," Kleiman said. "He was detained by officers, then moved to a police station for further questioning."
Kleiman said Vanunu remained in policy custody late Friday.
Since his release from prison, Vanunu has been living at a Jerusalem church compound.