Was A Foreign Government Behind Hamas Slaying?

The investigation into the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai continues, as police in the Persian Gulf city appealed for an international manhunt. Dubai's police chief said there would be severe consequences if any government was found to have been behind the plot. A number of European countries have rejected claims that the killers used their national passports.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

The plot reads like something straight out of a spy novel: fake passports, disguises and a clinical murder in a hotel room in Dubai. Police have released the names and photos of an alleged hit squad and appealed for an international manhunt. Police in Dubai believe the squad was responsible for last month's killing of a senior figure in the militant Palestinian group Hamas. NPR's Rob Gifford reports.

ROB GIFFORD: On January 19th, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh checked into a luxury hotel near Dubai's international airport. Mabhouh was one of the founders of Hamas's military wing and was, according to Israeli sources a purchaser of arms for Hamas. Within hours of his arrival, he was dead, suffocated in his own hotel room.

Dubai police say he was the victim of a hit squad made up in total of 10 men and one woman all traveling on European passports. Britain, Ireland and Germany all said yesterday the passports used were fake, and it has emerged that foreign-born men with the same names as seven of the 11 suspects live in Israel. They alleged their identities have been stolen.

Authorities in Dubai have presented evidence, including surveillance video clips of some of the 11 alleged accomplices dressed like holiday makers, some even in tennis garb riding the same elevator as Mabhouh.

Dubai's police chief, Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, said there would be severe consequences if any government was found to have been behind the plot.

Lieutenant General DHAHI KHALFAN TAMIM (Police Chief, Dubai): (Through translator) It doesn't matter who they are, whether Israeli or Arab. We'll be very thankful to anyone who works with us in getting hold of the wanted people. But we'll drastically reduce our dealings with anyone who refuses to cooperate.

GIFFORD: Initial suspicion fell on the Israeli foreign intelligence service Mossad, which has used foreign passports before in its operations. Mabhouh had been wanted by Israel for his role in the 1989 kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers. Today, Israel's foreign minister said the use of the identities of foreign-born Israelis did not prove that Mossad assassinated Mabhouh.

A former high-ranking Mossad official told Israeli Army Radio it was unlikely to be Mossad because of the apparent mistakes that were made. Almost all of the alleged hit squad were, for instance, videotaped quite clearly by video cameras.

And it's not just Israeli officials who are pointing to the long history of intra-Palestinian feuds. Claire Spencer is head of the Middle East program at London think-tank Chatham House.

Ms. CLAIRE SPENCER (Middle East Program, Chatham House): Mabhouh was targeted because he was the intermediary who arranged arms deals, if you like, and arms deliveries for Hamas in Gaza. So, obviously, there are clearly a number of people both within the Fatah camp with the Palestinians and in Israel who'd be keen to put his operation out of operation.

It does certainly intensify - if I can put it like this - the lack of trust on both sides, but also with - I think more seriously - within the Palestinian side.

GIFFORD: And as if that was not all complex enough, a Jordanian government spokesman told the Associated Press that Jordan turned over two Palestinians linked to the case to Dubai authorities several days ago. Hamas claims the suspects are linked to the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Fatah says they are Hamas operatives.

Rob Gifford, NPR News.

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