Dubai blames Israeli spy agency Mossad for slaying of Hamas commander

By Brian Murphy, AP
Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dubai blames Mossad for Hamas commander’s slaying

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dubai’s police chief accused Israel’s spy agency in the methodical stalking and killing of a Hamas commander, saying Thursday he was nearly “100 percent” certain the Mossad directed the alleged hit squad.

It marked the first time Dubai authorities have directly implicated Israel in the case, which has now spread across several continents with investigators probing possible credit card links to U.S.-based banks and European officials grilling Israeli envoys over fraudulent passports.

Interpol also added 11 members of the alleged murder squad to its most-wanted list.

Neither Dubai nor the government of the United Arab Emirates hold any leverage over Israel, which has no diplomatic ties or business dealings with the Gulf state. But the Emirates’ status as a global crossroads — and its close ties to the West — could add to the international pressure on Israel for answers as suspicions grow.

Dubai’s police chief, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, was quoted as saying he was “99 percent, if not 100 percent” certain the Mossad was behind the Jan. 19 slaying of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, one of the founders of Hamas’ military wing.

“Our investigations reveal that Mossad is involved in the murder of al-Mabhouh,” Tamim was quoted as saying by The National newspaper, which is owned by the government of Abu Dhabi.

He told another local paper, Dubai-based Gulf News: “All elements strongly indicate the involvement of the Mossad.”

Tamim and other Dubai police officials could not be immediately reached for further comment. Israel government spokesman Mark Regev also had no comment.

The Dubai statements also will likely embolden the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has repeatedly accused Mossad agents since the murder and has vowed revenge.

Israel and Hamas fought a brutal monthlong war in Gaza last year. The two sides have observed an informal truce since the conflict’s end, but al-Mabhouh’s assassination could endanger the understanding.

A statement from Dubai police indicated that authorities are trying to avoid being drawn into the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“His killing has obvious political overtones,” said the statement carried on the state-run Emirates News Agency. “Nevertheless, Dubai Police are right to refuse to enter into that discussion, and to treat the killing as a crime that needs solving.”

Dubai police on Monday unveiled 11 suspects — 10 men and one woman — who apparently traveled to Dubai on European passports with real names and authentic data, but possibly altered photos.

The names released by Dubai matched at least seven people living in Israel — six dual Israeli-British citizens and another Israeli-German. They all deny any connection to the killing and are apparently not under investigation.

Interpol put the 11 suspects on its top watch list. The international police agency said it issued the “red notices” at Dubai’s request “to limit the ability of accused murderers from traveling freely” on the same altered passports: six from Britain, three Irish and one each from France and Germany.

Interpol says the notices are not meant to stigmatize the real people whose identities were stolen, but to help clear them of suspicion by helping police worldwide catch the true suspects.

Those whose identities were stolen will be able to travel as usual if they are using valid travel documents, though they may be subject to extra questions or verification, according to Interpol.

The total suspect list now stands at 18 — with two Palestinians in custody in Dubai and four men and one woman wanted. An official confirmed the number of suspects, but would give no further details.

The investigation also widened to the United States and Austria.

The alleged killers used fraudulent passports to open five credit cards accounts through U.S.-based banks, said the official, who has close knowledge of the investigation. The official gave no additional details, and spoke on condition of anonymity in line with standing policy

In Austria, Interior Ministry spokesman Rudolf Gollia said anti-terrorism authorities are investigating Dubai police claims that the alleged killers called Austrian numbers for use as a “command center.” Calls by The Associated Press to some of the numbers went to automated voice mail accounts.

The international fallout showed no signs of easing, with Britain and Ireland summoning Israeli ambassadors for discussions about the rogue passports.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said one of the nation’s top diplomats, Peter Ricketts, met with Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor.

“He made clear that we wanted to give Israel every opportunity to share with us what it knows about this incident,” said Miliband, adding that he would raise the issue with Israel’s foreign minister when they meet in Brussels in the coming days.

Prosor told journalists he was not able to add additional information to Britain’s request.

Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Zion Evrony, said he had nothing useful to tell Ireland because he knew nothing confidential about the Dubai assassination.

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin has said the three Irish passports did have valid numbers but were issued to people with different names than those made public by Dubai.

In Paris, the French government summoned an Israeli diplomat to seek explanations for the use of a fake French passport by a suspect in the case, while Germany’s ambassador to the Middle East asked Israeli diplomats to contribute any information on the killing.

In Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman brushed aside the calls for greater Israeli disclosures.

“Israel never responds, never confirms and never denies,” Avigdor said Wednesday. Then added: “I don’t know why we are assuming that Israel, or the Mossad, used those passports.”

But that did little to stop speculation of Mossad involvement — and a possible national embarrassment if proven true.

Some Israeli commentators compared the case to the failed attempt to kill Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in 1997. Two Mossad agents posing as Canadian tourists were captured after injecting Mashaal with poison, and Israel was forced to send an antidote that saved Mashaal’s life. Today Mashaal is Hamas’ supreme leader.

The Mossad has been accused of identity theft before. New Zealand convicted and jailed two Israelis in 2005 for trying to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports. But it would be the first time the Mossad has been suspected of using the identities of its own citizens.

Israel’s spy service has been suspected of carrying out assassinations for decades. Recent ones include Imad Mughniyeh, a top Hezbollah commander who was killed in 2008 by a bomb that ripped through his Pajero SUV in Damascus, Syria. Israel denied any role in the hit.

Associated Press Writers Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin, Steven Gutkin in Jerusalem, Veronika Oleksyn in Vienna and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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