Dubai police describe hit-squad assassination plot

02/16/2010 Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Dubai police appealed for an international manhunt today after releasing names and photos of an alleged 11-member European hit squad accused of stalking and killing a Hamas commander last month in a plot that mixed cold precision with spy caper disguises such as fake beards and wigs.

The case – as presented by Dubai authorities – rings of clockwork espionage and detailed planning that included suspects riding the same elevator as Mahmoud al-Mabhouh before he was slain in an ambush-style attack in a luxury hotel room that took no more than 10 minutes.

But questions emerged about the suspect list, which Dubai authorities listed as six British, three Irish and one each from France and Germany.

More coverage

» Dubai Hamas assassination: Irish citizens not involved, Ireland says [The Telegraph]

» Dubai issues arrest warrant for Al Mabhouh’s killers [Gulfnews]

» British investigate ID theft by ‘Mossad’ hit squad in Dubai [The Times]
Ireland said the three alleged Irish citizens on the wanted list do not exist. In Germany, officials said the passport number give by Dubai for the lone German suspect is either incomplete or wrong.

Other elements also challenged Dubai’s narrative, including how investigators pieced together the evidence pointing to an alleged European assassin team. Or why such an apparently well-planned operation would forget about Dubai’s wide-ranging security cameras.

Dubai police gave no futher details after a stunning news conference Monday to blame the slaying on a team of 10 men and one woman carrying passports from Britain, Ireland, France and Germany.

Officials outside Dubai, however, said at least two Palestinians linked to the case were in Dubai custody, leaving Hamas and its Palestinian rivals trading bitter accusations.

Meanwhile, doubts were raised about some suspects’ identities.

In Dublin, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said it could not find the three suspects in passport records and the numbers listed were counterfeit because they have the wrong number of digits and contain no letters. “Ireland has issued no passports in those names,” the department said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Germany’s Interior Ministry also said the five-digit passport number given for the lone German suspect is too short and lacks the letters that now appear on its passports.

Dubai officials have said they would seek assistance from the global police coordination agency Interpol and press individual nations to hunt down the suspects in the killing of al-Mabhouh, whose body was found Jan. 20.

Attorney general, Essam al-Hemaydan, said Tuesday that international arrest warrants have been issued for those accused of links to the slaying.

A day earlier, Dubai’s police chief, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, attempted to create a full storyline of the alleged crime plot.

It included surveillance video clips from the suspects’ airport arrivals to their hasty departures to Europe and Asia before al-Mabhouh’s body was found in Room 230 at the Al-Bustan Rotana Hotel near Dubai’s international airport.

Tamim said the suspects arrived in Dubai at different times, checked into different hotels and tailed al-Mabhouh from the moment of his arrival in Dubai to when he entered his hotel room. Some of the suspects even rode in the same elevator as al-Mabhouh to verify his room number and later booked a room across the hall, Tamim said.

They paid for all expenses in cash and used different cell phone cards to avoid being traced, Tamim said.

Surveillance footage shows the female suspect apparently wearing a wig and at times a big hat and sunglasses to blend in as a tourist. Others also were seen disguised as vacationers, wearing baseball caps or tennis outfits and carrying rackets. Tamim also said some suspects donned fake beards.

MIDEAST_ISRAEL_PALESTINIANS.JPGFayeq al-Mabhouh sits in front of posters of his brother, Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, (left and right), who was assassinated in Dubai. Dubai police appealed for an international manhunt today after releasing names and photos of an alleged 11-member hit squad accused of stalking and killing Mabhouh last month in a plot that mixed cold precision with spy caper disguises such as fake beards and wigs.

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. Hamas initially claimed al-Mabhouh was poisoned and electrocuted, but later a Hamas leader, Mohammed Nazzal, denied that poison was used.

The killing itself took just 10 minutes, Tamim said.

Four assassins later entered his room while he was out, using an electronic device to open the door, and waited for al-Mabhouh to return.

Tamim said they were careful not to disturb anything in the room and 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. All left the country within 19 hours of their arrivals in Dubai, one of seven semiautonomous emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai police claimed that four members of the alleged cell – three men identified as British and one Irish – carried out the killing. Five others, including the woman, were used as spotters and in other planning roles, police said. The mastermind was a man identified as French.

The consul general of France in Dubai, Nada Yafi, declined to comment on the case.

Hamas has repeatedly accused Israel’s Mossad secret service of masterminding the slaying and has vowed revenge.

Tamim did not directly implicate Israel but noted the possibility that “leaders of certain countries gave orders to their intelligence agents to kill” al-Mabhouh, one of the founders of Hamas’ military wing.

A former high-ranking Mossad official, Rami Yigal, told Israel Army Radio that the assassin “does look professional” as described by Dubai police. But Yigal said it “doesn’t look like an Israeli operation” because of the apparent shortcuts, such as allowing members to be videotaped by security cameras.

Yigal declined to speculate on who could have carried out the slaying, but noted that al-Mabhouh has many enemies and was at the center of bloody Palestinian feuds.

“He was not new to terror … and he had many contacts with people who had good reason to want him dead,” he said.

The two detained Palestinians were Hamas operatives, said Adnan Damiri, the police spokesman in the West Bank, citing sources familiar with the investigation.

Hamas, however, claimed the suspects were linked to the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as part of alleged clandestine links with Israeli intelligence.

In Amman, Jordan, government spokesman Nabil Sharif told the AP that Jordan turned the two Palestinians over to the United Arab Emirates “a few days ago.” He declined to give their names or further details.

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.

Israeli officials have accused al-Mabhouh of helping smuggle rockets into the Gaza Strip, the coastal territory ruled by the militant group.

Top Hamas figures have denied reports that al-Mabhouh was en route to Iran, a major Hamas backer. But the group has not given clear reasons for his presence in Dubai.

Dubai police issued a document identifying the suspects as: Michael Lawrence Barney, James Leonard Clarke, Jonathan Louis Graham, Paul John Keeley, Stephen Daniel Hodes and Melvyn Adam Mildiner of Britain; Gail Folliard, Evan Dennings and Kevin Daveron of Ireland; Peter Elvinger of France and Michael Bodenheimer of Germany.

Besides the doubt cast on the German and Irish suspects, a man identified as Melvyn Mildiner and reached by telephone in Israel said he had been impersonated.

“It’s not me,” he said of the photo circulated by police in Dubai. “I have never been to Dubai.”