Dubai police chief almost certain of Mossad ties to Hamas official's death

By Howard Schneider
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 19, 2010

JERUSALEM -- Dubai's police chief said Thursday that there is a "99 percent" chance that Israel's Mossad spy agency was behind the killing of a Hamas operative in the city-state last month, marking the most direct accusation yet in the developing controversy.

In comments to Persian Gulf-based news media, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim did not disclose any new evidence beyond the security camera video footage and other data released earlier in the week when Dubai named 11 suspects in the slaying.

Although Tamim was circumspect in his initial public comments, attributing Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's death only to a "professional criminal gang," on Thursday he said a police investigation has convinced him that "it is 99 percent, if not 100 percent, that Mossad is standing behind the murder."

At the same time, an initial round of meetings between Israeli diplomats and their British and Irish counterparts ended with demands for more information about the forged passports that Dubai police say were carried by members of the assassination team.

Officials in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, say the team entered the country using fake British, Irish, French and German passports, arriving within hours of Mabhouh and leaving shortly after he was suffocated in his hotel room.

The names on the six British passports match those of Israeli citizens who were born in Britain and had emigrated, raising speculation that undercover Mossad agents had "borrowed" their identities to hunt down Mabhouh.

Israel's ambassadors in Ireland and Britain said after meetings in Dublin and London that they could provide no information about the apparent passport forgery.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he would raise the matter with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. France and Germany also have asked Israel for more information, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

"Any interference with British passports is an outrage. We take this case extremely seriously -- the integrity of our system is critical," Miliband told the BBC.

Dubai authorities also have questioned two Palestinians, but they have not been charged. The Islamist Hamas movement controls the Gaza Strip and is at odds with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank.

The 11 named suspects have been placed on Interpol's "red list" for arrest -- a potential problem for the six Israelis whose names turned up on the apparently fake passports.

Israeli officials have shown little or no interest in legal risks faced by the six citizens. But the six have expressed concern that they might be arrested if they try to travel, or even be targeted by Hamas.

"How does it happen that the Mossad screws up?" Sima Keeley told the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, after Dubai police named her husband, Paul, among the suspects. "Now there will be all kinds of threats and all kinds of crazy plans, and somebody might seek out revenge."

Mabhouh was a founding member of Hamas's military wing and was thought to have been involved in the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers in the late 1980s. Since then, he had been based in Damascus, the Syrian capital, and reportedly served as a key conduit for weapons and money to Hamas in Gaza.

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