Cameras Capture Death Squad After Hamas Leader
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
A startling cloak-and-dagger story is emerging in the death of a high-ranking Hamas leader last month. The man was a senior commander of the militant Palestinian group. He was found dead in a luxury hotel room in the Persian Gulf city of Dubai. Now Dubai's police chief has released a lengthy videotape of what is believed to be the movements of an 11-member assassination squad.
The videotape comes from closed-circuit security cameras that picked up the movements of the alleged hit squad and their victim from the moment they all arrived in Dubai. NPR's Mike Shuster joins us now from Dubai. And, Mike, tell us more about what the video shows.
MIKE SHUSTER: Well, it's pretty extraordinary, Renee. It looks like a movie. I mean, it's footage that we've seen in political thrillers for many years. The videotape starts tracing the movements of the 11 through Dubai Airport. They arrive. They go through customs. They get into cabs. They arrive at several hotels. They're seen checking in at the desks and going up to their rooms. Then it becomes apparent that they - some of them change their clothes. There is one woman in the group. She puts on a wig and a floppy hat and sunglasses and looks like a tourist. Two other men change into tennis clothes. And then we go back to the airport and we see Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the victim, enter the airport, check through customs.
And a couple of members of the assassination squad pick him up and tail him to the al-Bustan Rotana Hotel, where he is seen entering room 230. And then one of the members of the assassination squad goes back to the desk, reserves the room across the hall. The victim is then seen leaving and moving around Dubai at certain points. And he's being tailed by different groups of the assassination squad.
Others break into his room, wait for him to come back. He comes back around 8:30 in the evening. They leave, he doesn't, and his body is discovered the next day, on January 20th.
MONTAGNE: The victim, a top leader of Hamas.
SHUSTER: Yes. His name is Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. He is a well-known commander of Hamas. He is viewed as one of the founding military members of Hamas. And he was - he's been wanted in Israel since 1989 for the killing of a couple of Israeli soldiers. He was suspected of traveling to Iran regular to make purchases for weapons for Hamas inside Gaza. That's what the suspicion is about this particular trip, but the police chief here did not confirm that.
MONTAGNE: And so the apparent assassins, is there anything known about them?
SHUSTER: We know that they all came in on European passports: six British passports, three Irish passports, one German and one French. One of them is a woman. Their pictures have been picked up from those passports, and they've been plastered on the front pages of all the newspapers here in Dubai this morning, and they've been identified by name. So the police here believe they have a lot of leads in chasing these people down.
They are suspected - although the police chief didn't say this - but they're suspected of working for Mossad. So police in Dubai are hoping that Interpol can help track them down. But it's likely that if they return to some European destinations, if they are from Mossad, they would have traveled on, I would think.
MONTAGNE: And Mossad, of course, the Israeli intelligence agency. Just a quick thing: They're known, their names, but do they actually know those other names?
SHUSTER: It's not clear. There have been some assertions here that these were legitimate passports, but others say they could easily have been forged by any intelligence service, including Mossad. So we don't really know the answer to that question.
MONTAGNE: So, how was this Hamas commander killed?
SHUSTER: Well, there were apparently four of the hit squad that entered his room before he came in. They somehow had an electronic device that opened up the door. They waited for him there, about half an hour. He came back. It is believed that he was first disabled by electric shock, and then either strangled or suffocated. It took about 10 minutes, and then the assassins were seen leaving his room, and they went straight back to the airport and left Dubai.
MONTAGNE: Well, fascinating, Mike. Thank you very much.
SHUSTER: You're welcome, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Mike Shuster, reporting from Dubai.
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