Dubai says Hamas man killed by European hit squad made up of 26 members Mossad and CIA involvement suspected
By BARBARA SURK (AP) – Feb 15, 2010
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dubai's police chief said Monday an 11-member hit squad carrying European passports and disguised in wigs, fake beards and tennis clothes was behind the mysterious killing of a Hamas commander in his hotel room last month. Authorities also released photos of the 11.
Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim did not directly implicate Israel, as the Islamic militant group has. But the details he released at a news conference in the Gulf emirate are the most comprehensive accusations by Dubai authorities since the body of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was found Jan. 20 in his luxury hotel room near Dubai's international airport.
Tamim said it was possible that "leaders of certain countries gave orders to their intelligence agents to kill" al-Mabhouh, one of the founders of Hamas' military wing. But he did not name any countries.
Hamas has accused Israel and vowed revenge.
Tamim sketched out a highly organized operation in the hours before the killing, clearly done with advance knowledge of the victim's movements, and said the killers spent less than a day in the country. He said forensic tests indicated al-Mabhouh died of suffocation, but lab analyses were still under way to pinpoint other possible factors in his death.
He showed the news conference surveillance video of the alleged assassination team arriving on separate flights to Dubai the day before al-Mabhouh was found dead. The members of the alleged hit-squad checked into separate hotels and used disguises that included wigs, fake beards, tennis rackets and other sports gear during the operation, he said.
They paid for all expenses in cash and used different mobile phone cards to avoid traces, he added.
The killing itself took just 10 minutes, he said. Several members of the hit squad followed him — even riding in the same elevator to determine his room number — and then checked into the room across the hall. Four assassins among the group later entered his room in the Al-Bustan Rotana Hotel while he was out, using an electronic device to open the door. There they waited for him to return.
Tamim said they were careful not to disturb anything in the room and somehow left the door locked from the inside to try to hide the fact that they had broken in.
The team then headed for the airport, some of them flying to Europe and others to Asia, he said.
He added that there was "serious penetration into al-Mabhouh's security prior to his arrival" in Dubai, but that it appeared al-Mabhouh was traveling alone.
"Hamas did not tell us who he was. He was walking around alone," said Tamim. "If he was such an important leader, why didn't he have people escorting him?"
The killing took place about five hours after al-Mabhouh arrived at the hotel and all the 11 suspects were out of the United Arab Emirates within 19 hours of their arrivals, he said.
Tamim claimed the suspects left behind some evidence, but he declined to elaborate. He urged the countries linked to the alleged killers to cooperate with the investigation and said the photos and other information were being sent to Interpol and posted on the Internet.
Police released their photos, names, nationalities and details of their passports, which authorities said were not fake. At least some of the photos released appeared to be passport photographs and the one woman among the group looked as if she might be wearing a blond wig.
He did not say whether any of the suspects have been formally charged by prosecutors in Dubai, one of seven semiautonomous emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.
Tamim told reporters the alleged assassination team comprised six British passport holders, three Irish and one each from France and Germany. Hamas has accused Israel's Mossad secret service of carrying out the killing and has pledged to strike back.
Britain's Foreign Office declined to comment Monday on the allegations while officials seek more information on the case and the individuals named by Tamim.
Israeli officials have accused al-Mabhouh of helping smuggle rockets into the Gaza Strip, the coastal territory ruled by the militant group.
A Hamas statement last month acknowledged al-Mabhouh was involved in the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989 and said he was still playing a "continuous role in supporting his brothers in the resistance inside the occupied homeland" at the time of his death.
Hamas initially claimed al-Mabhouh was poisoned and electrocuted. But Mohammed Nazzal, a Hamas leader, has given a somewhat different account, saying al-Mabhouh was ambushed by Mossad agents who were waiting for him in his hotel room. Nazzal said earlier this month that no poison was involved. But he gave no evidence to back up his charge of Mossad involvement.
Top Hamas figures have denied reports that al-Mabhouh was en route to Iran, which is a major Hamas backer. But the group has not given clear reasons for his presence in Dubai.
Dubai police today identified 15 more suspects wanted over the murder of a senior Hamas official in the Gulf emirate last month, including a further six who used British passports.
The announcement brings to 26 the total number of people suspected of involvement in Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's assassination, which is widely believed to have been the work of Israel's secret service, the Mossad.
The six new British names are Mark Daniel Sklar, Roy Allan Cannon, Daniel Marc Schnur, Philip Carr, Stephen Keith Drake and Gabriella Barney. A Foreign Office spokesman said the government believed their passport details had been used fraudulently.
"We can confirm that six more UK passports have been identified. We will seek to make contact with these individuals and offer consular assistance as we have the previous individuals. We continue to work closely with the Emirati authorities. The foreign secretary and others have made clear we expect full Israeli co-operation."
It was not immediately clear where the six live.
The mother of Sklar, who declined to give her name, said her son lived and worked in Israel. She said neither she nor her son had been contacted by the Foreign Office, but she had spoken to him today after being contacted by journalists. "He was very shocked," she said. "It's a bit worrying".
Another of those named, an Israeli living in Tel Aviv, said he was angry and shocked to find his identity had been stolen. Adam Korman, 34, works in a shop in Rothschild Avenue, Tel Aviv. He was born in Australia but emigrated to Israel as a child and holds joint citizenship. "I am shocked, it's identity theft – simply unbelievable," he told Ynet, the website of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. "I am quite shocked and can't believe this is happening," he said.
Korman is the eighth Israeli citizen so far to have his identity stolen by the suspected assassins in Dubai. Like all the others, he said he had not visited Dubai, but did travel around the world and regularly flew back to Australia.
"I have been frightened and shocked since receiving the news. It's irresponsible and a violation of human and individual rights to do such a thing," he said.
Israeli officials have rejected claims of involvement by the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service, although they have not specifically denied any role. Instead, the government keeps to a policy of "ambiguity" over Mossad operations. But on Tuesday Tzipi Livni, leader of the opposition Kadima party and a former foreign minister, praised the killing. "The fact that a terrorist was killed, and it doesn't matter if it was in Dubai or Gaza, is good news to those fighting terrorism," she said at a conference in Jerusalem.
Dubai police say the newly named suspects were believed to have provided "logistical support" for the operation. Many had credit cards that were issued by the same US bank.
At least three women are now suspected of involvement in the hit, one of whom used a UK passport. Other suspects were travelling on passports issued by Australia.
The total number of UK passports linked to the case has risen to 12 and French passports to five. The suspected hit squad flew in from Munich, Paris, Rome, Milan and Hong Kong.
David Miliband, the foreign secretary, has described as an outrage the alleged abuse of British passports and an investigation is under way by the serious organised crime agency, Soca.
A Soca spokesman said the agency was trying to track down the people named by Dubai police. "The genuine passport holders have not been confirmed as being directly linked to the murder," he said.
The EU has also condemned passport abuse, without mentioning Israel.
The Dubai authorities have been using immigration records and CCTV images of the suspects to try to piece together what happened in the hours before Mabhouh's murder.
Israel has said Mabhouh played a key role in smuggling Iranian-supplied rockets into the Gaza Strip and was involved in the abduction and killing of two soldiers 20 years ago.
At least two suspected Israeli agents behind the murder
of a senior Hamas official fled to the US during their escape, Dubai police now
Police have now cast their net wider in their investigation of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s killing, which officials in the Gulf state are now certain was carried out by Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad.
The Wall Street Journal reported today that one of the suspects carrying a British passport entered the US on February 14, while a second arrived on American soil on January 21, two days after the murder, using an Irish passport.
There are no records of either man leaving the US, but Dubai’s police chief, Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan told a press conference today that he believed all the suspects named in the case are currently in Israel.
“All of them [are in Israel] … These are agents for the Mossad, we know this," Khalfan told reporters in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. “They travelled to European countries and to the US using the same documents they used to enter here.”
Speaking to The Times yesterday, insiders close to the case confirmed that at least two of the 26 named suspects had been tracked through the US. One of these was Roy Cannon, a British man living in Israel whose identity was apparently stolen by the team behind the killing.
Dubai police have named 12 British passport holders among the suspects. All are now believed to be UK citizens resident in Israel and victims of identity theft.
Dubai police have already traced 13 credit cards issued by the Meta Bank in Iowa and its New York-based distributor. The cards were used to book flights and hotel rooms. The FBI is believed to be investigating.
Al-Mabhouh was killed in his Dubai hotel room on January 19, with his killers fleeing the country within hours of the murder. Police tracked them back to Europe, with several flying via South Africa and Hong Kong. Their movements after this are not clear.
Mr al-Mabhouh’s body was not found by hotel staff until January 20. Results of a toxicology report released by police show that he was injected with a fast-acting sedative before being suffocated.
Khalfan said today that while the agents remained in Israel, they could not be extradited, but that they would be seized if they left the country. Dubai has issued international arrest warrants for the 26 named suspects through Interpol.
The police chief called upon European countries whose citizens have had their identities stolen to continue their full cooperation in the case and stressed that the UAE’s relationship with these nations would not be affected.
"If israel and Mossad mistreated Europeans, we will not. If the Mossad dipped their hand in blood and wiped it on European passports, our treatment of Europeans will not be affected," he said.
British agents from the SOCA (Serious Organized Crime Agency) are now in Israel to interview the 12 British citizens living in Israel whose passports have been linked with the Dubai assassination.