Police are hunting 11 suspects with European passports, including a woman, for the murder in a Dubai hotel room of a top militant of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, the Gulf emirate’s police chief has said.
The hit team which killed Mahmud al-Mabhuh last month was made up of six British passport holders, three with Irish passports, including the woman, and the holders of a German and a French passport, Dhafi Khalfan said.
“We have no doubts that it was 11 people holding these passports, and we regret that they used the travel documents of friendly countries,” he told a press conference, describing a rapid and professional hit.
While not ruling out “the involvement of (Israel’s spy agency) Mossad or other parties in the assassination,” Khalfan said the names on the passports had been passed on to Interpol to request arrest warrants.
Britain’s Foreign Office had no comment about the accusation, while its counterpart in Ireland said Irish diplomats were seeking clarification.
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has accused Israel of killing Mabhuh, 50, who was found dead in his luxury hotel room in Dubai on January 20 and vowed revenge.
Its members have said that Mabhuh, who was based in Damascus, was on a visit to Dubai to buy weapons for the militant group’s armed wing of which he was a founder.
Mabhuh, who was born in northern Gaza, confessed to his involvement in the 1989 killings of two captured Israeli soldiers, in a video aired more than two weeks after his death.
According to Khalfan, Mabhuh entered the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a member, a day before his death using a passport that did not bear his family name.
He was then tracked by his killers who had reserved a room across the hall from his in the hotel, according to Khalfan.
The killers tried to force open his door but it was unclear whether they managed to enter or waited until he opened it for them.
“He was strangled after receiving maybe an electric shock,” said the police chief, denying media reports that the Hamas militant had come to Dubai on a mission to buy arms from Iran.
Mabhuh’s killers had left Dubai in the hours following the murder, said Khalfan, presenting the media surveillance camera footage of the team arriving and departing and their movements in the hotel.
The police chief added the group spent only 24 hours in Dubai, and that the killers used no weapons, credit cards or local phone lines during their stay.
Khalfan had harsh words for both the killers, who had needed a 10-member team against a sole unarmed person, and their victim, who had killed the captured soldiers.
Amid official silence in the Jewish state, Israeli newspapers have hailed the killing, with the rightwing Jerusalem Post calling it “another blow to the ‘axis of evil.'”
According to Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, citing unidentified Middle East sources, Mabhuh on arrival in Dubai was followed by two men described by local police as “Europeans carrying European passports.”
The hit squad injected Mabhuh with a drug that induced a heart attack, photographed all the documents in his briefcase, and left a “do not disturb” sign on the door, it said.
Over the years, a number of Hamas leaders have died in what Israel calls “targeted killings.”
In 2004, Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was killed in an Israeli helicopter gunship attack in Gaza. One month later, another Hamas leader in the enclave, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, was killed when two missiles hit his car.