Death of Islamist Hamas commander in Dubai prompts hunt for killers

By Howard Schneider
Saturday, January 30, 2010; A09

JERUSALEM -- A senior commander of the Islamist Hamas organization's military wing was killed this month in a hotel in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, prompting what officials there said would be an international search for members of a "professional criminal gang" Dubai blamed for the slaying.

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's body was found Jan. 20, but information about his death was made public only Friday after the corpse was returned to Damascus, the Syrian capital, where Mabhouh had lived in exile since leaving the Gaza Strip in 1989.

Hamas officials accused Israel of the killing and vowed revenge. Israeli officials, in keeping with standard policy on such allegations, did not comment.

Mabhouh was among the founders of Hamas's military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which is held responsible for hundreds of suicide and rocket attacks against Israel over the years. He was notorious for his involvement in the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989.

A statement by Dubai's official media office quoted police and security officials and said Mabhouh entered the country on the afternoon of Jan. 19 and was found dead within a day, suggesting that the killers had tracked his movements.

The statement did not mention a cause of death or identify the hotel where the body was found. However, Mabhouh's brother, interviewed in Gaza's Jabalya refugee camp, where the two grew up, said medical reports supplied to family members in Damascus indicated that Mabhouh had been subjected to electric shocks and strangulation.

Israel has frequently targeted Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, and there have been occasional allegations of assassination efforts abroad. Most notably, Israeli agents in 1997 tried to poison Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in the Jordanian capital, Amman, an operation that backfired when Jordan's King Hussein demanded that Israel provide the antidote.

More recently, the militant group Hezbollah has held Israel responsible for a car bombing in Damascus that killed militant commander Imad Mughniyah in 2008, and Iran has blamed Israel and the United States for a recent explosion that killed a nuclear scientist in Tehran.

Neither allegation has been corroborated, but Israeli officials have taken seriously Hezbollah's threats to avenge Mughniyah's death.

Israel, meanwhile, has been negotiating in vain with Hamas for the release of soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by the Islamist group for more than three years.

Israel is also investigating a roadside bombing that targeted a carload of Israeli diplomats en route from Amman to Israel this month.

The statement from the government of Dubai made no mention of Israel. It said Mabhouh's killers are thought to have been traveling on European passports and had left the United Arab Emirates by the time the body was found. The statement said Interpol had been contacted for help finding the suspects and expressed confidence that arrests would be made.

Special correspondent Islam Abdelkarim in Gaza contributed to this report.

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