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Dubai's police chief accuses Mossad in killing of Hamas commander

February 18, 2010|By Borzou Daragahi | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Reporting from Beirut — Dubai's police chief for the first time Thursday accused Israel's Mossad spy service of the murder of a senior Hamas figure visiting the Persian Gulf emirate last month.

Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim told the English-language Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National that Interpol had issued arrest warrants for 11 suspects wanted in the killing of Hamas commander Mahmoud Mabhouh, 50, who was found dead in his hotel room Jan. 20. Two suspects, both Palestinians, are already in Dubai custody.

Earlier this week, Dubai authorities released the suspects' passport photos, videotaped movements and allegedly false identities, which have been splashed across newspapers and featured in news broadcasts worldwide.

"Our investigations reveal that Mossad is involved in the murder of al-Mabhouh," Tamim told the newspaper. "It is 99% if not 100% that Mossad is standing behind the murder."

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday there was no evidence tying the killing to Mossad but added that Israel pursues a policy of "ambiguity" on security operations to keep its enemies off guard.

Tamim did not disclose what evidence, if any, he had to prove his assertion. But he told The National that Interpol, the international agency that coordinates policing efforts, had distributed warrants, photographs and detailed descriptions of the 11 suspects to its member states.

The case has heightened tensions between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, a staunch U.S. ally and a potential partner of Washington in any effort to pressure Iran on its nuclear program, which Israel considers its No. 1 security challenge.

The suspects carried British, Irish, German and French passports. But at least seven suspects are Israeli residents now claiming that their names and identities were used to create phony travel papers with others' pictures.

Britain and Ireland have launched investigations into whether their travel documents were used to conduct the alleged assassination. Officials in London announced that the Israeli ambassador to Britain had been summoned regarding possible Israeli connections to the alleged use of British travel documents to carry out the assassination.

Accounts of the alleged Jan. 19 assassination had all the hallmarks of a professional hit operation ripped out of the pages of a spy thriller. Israel sought Mabhouh, a native of the Gaza Strip and founder of Hamas's military wing, for the 1989 kidnappings of two Israeli soldiers. Police say he was dead within hours of arriving in Dubai without a security detail from his current home in Damascus

After allegedly killing him in his room at central Dubai's Bustan Rotana hotel in an elaborate operation using wigs and costumes, the alleged hit team quickly fled the country, according to Dubai authorities.

Dubai police coroner Fawzi Benomran told the local newspaper Xpress that ascertaining the exact cause of Mabhouh's death has been "one of the most challenging cases" his department has faced.

Dubai, a glitzy port town coming off the hangover of the global financial meltdown, is relatively safe and free of violent crime. Initially, investigators were not inclined to suspect murder.

"It was meant to look like death from natural causes during sleep," he said. "But our experience prevailed and hence the whole process of investigation was initiated,"

His team later determined the cause of death as "suffocation by smothering, most probably by occluding the external airways using a soft object, most probably a pillow." daragahi@latimes.com

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