DUBAI — The roster for the “hit squad” that allegedly murdered Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mahbouh in Dubai last month just got a little longer: In recent days, the Dubai police have told Ireland and Britain that four additional suspects had traveled to the Emirate with forged passports.
Two of the additional suspects traveled on forged British passports, and two traveled on forged Irish passports, European and Gulf news outlets reported. “There is information that Dubai police will not make public for the moment, especially regarding diplomatic passports,” Dubai Police Chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim told Al Bayan newspaper on Sunday.
The total number of suspects in the murder in Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is now 18. At this time, 14 people have been identified as having traveled on fake British, Irish, and French passports, with most of the British identities stolen from individuals who also held Israeli citizenship. One suspect traveled on what German authorities say appears to be a valid German passport but apparently obtained with an identity stolen from a dual German-Israeli national.
Two Palestinians affiliated with Hamas’s rival group, Fatah, are under arrest in the UAE; one Hamas operative is being held in Syria. Up to three of the individuals who used forged European passports may have used diplomatic ones.
Some of the suspects visited Dubai prior to the Jan. 20 assassination and used credit cards with false names to purchase their plane tickets, police said.
Over the weekend, Tamim ruled out the possibility that European intelligence agencies had played a part in the murder of Mr. Mabhouh, who helped found Hamas’s militant wing and allegedly smuggled arms from Iran into Gaza.
Tamim has fingered Israel’s Mossad spy agency for the Jan. 20 assassination, as have many commentators in Europe and Israel, though many dispute the possibility that Mossad would have left as large a trail of video footage as Dubai police have collected. As a policy Mossad does not confirm nor deny any of its operations. The uncertainty has triggered debate in Israel about Mossad’s tactics.
The use of forged European passports has kicked up a diplomatic storm in recent days. The EU issued a strong condemnation of the stolen IDs on Monday, indirectly criticizing Israel. Israeli ambassadors in Britain, Ireland, France, and Germany have been called in to discuss the issue, and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with several of his counterparts on Monday about it as well.
The Hamas member had played a “significant role” in the murder of Mr. Mabhouh, alerting the suspected assassins to his whereabouts, Tamim told the Gulf News.
Hamas has downplayed the reports of Palestinian involvement saying efforts to reconcile with Fatah will continue.