Dubai police appealed for an international manhunt Tuesday after releasing names and photos of an alleged 11-member European hit squad accused of stalking and killing a Hamas commander last month in a plot that mixed cold precision with spy caper disguises such as fake beards and wigs.
The case — as presented by Dubai authorities — is one of clockwork espionage and detailed planning that included suspects riding the same elevator as Mahmoud al-Mabhouh before he was slain in an ambush-style attack in a luxury hotel room that took no more than 10 minutes.
But questions emerged about the list of suspects after Dubai authorities released pictures, names and passport photos identifying them as six Britons, three Irish and one each from France and Germany.
Ireland said the three alleged Irish citizens on the wanted list do not exist. In Germany, officials said the passport number give by Dubai for the lone German suspect is either incomplete or wrong.
Other elements also challenged the narrative presented by Dubai authorities, including how investigators pieced together the evidence pointing to an alleged European assassin team. Or why such an apparently well-planned operation would forget about the country's wide-ranging security cameras.
Who was mastermind?
At least three people who live in Israel share names with suspects identified by Dubai police, Israel's Channel 2 news reported. Another man named as a suspect holds dual British-Israeli citizenship. Those connections are likely to encourage Hamas and others to press their claims that Israel's Mossad secret service masterminded the slaying. Hamas has vowed revenge.
Al-Mabhouh, one of the founders of Hamas' military wings, had been wanted by Israel for his role in the 1989 kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers on leave — something that was acknowledged by Hamas last month.
Days after his body was found on Jan. 20, Israeli officials also pointedly accused al-Mabhouh of helping smuggle rockets into the Gaza Strip, the coastal territory ruled by Hamas.
Officials outside Dubai, however, said at least two Palestinians linked to the case were in Dubai custody, leaving Hamas and its Palestinian rivals trading bitter accusations.
Meanwhile, doubts were raised about some suspects' identities.
In Dublin, Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs said it could not find the three suspects in passport records and the numbers listed were counterfeit because they have the wrong number of digits and contain no letters. "Ireland has issued no passports in those names," the department said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Germany's Interior Ministry also said the five-digit passport number given for the lone German suspect is too short and lacks the letters that now appear on its passports.
Melvyn Adam Mildiner, 31, one of the men identified by the Dubai police Monday as a suspect, was shocked when an AP reporter reached him on the phone in Israel and read him the information released by Dubai officials.
Mildiner, who said he holds a British and an Israeli passport, confirmed the name and the passport number matched his but said the date of birth was a few days off.
He said he did not know how anybody obtained his U.K. passport, issued in 2001 and never reported lost.
Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement Tuesday that authorities were aware the "holders of six British passports have been named" as suspects in the case but added authorities believe the passports used were fraudulent.
Caught on camera
Dubai officials have said they would seek assistance from the global police coordination agency Interpol and press individual nations to hunt down the suspects.
Attorney General Essam al-Hemaydan said Tuesday that international arrest warrants have been issued.
The account presented Monday by Dubai's police chief, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, included surveillance video clips from the suspects' airport arrivals to their hasty departures to Europe and Asia before al-Mabhouh's body was found in Room 230 at the Al-Bustan Rotana Hotel near Dubai's international airport.
Tamim said the suspects arrived in Dubai at different times, checked into different hotels and tailed al-Mabhouh from the moment of his arrival in Dubai to when he entered his hotel room. Some suspects even rode in the same elevator as al-Mabhouh to verify his room number and later booked a room across the hall, Tamim said.
They paid for all expenses in cash and used different cell phone cards to avoid being traced, Tamim said.
Surveillance footage shows the female suspect apparently wearing a wig and at times a big hat and sunglasses to blend in as a tourist. Others also were disguised as vacationers, wearing baseball caps or tennis outfits and carrying rackets. Tamim also said some suspects donned fake beards.
Assassinated in hotel room
He said forensic tests indicated al-Mabhouh died of suffocation, but lab analyses were still under way to pinpoint other possible factors. Hamas initially claimed al-Mabhouh was poisoned and electrocuted, but later a Hamas leader, Mohammed Nazzal, denied that poison was used.
The killing itself took just 10 minutes, Tamim said.
Four assassins later entered his room while he was out, using an electronic device to open the door, and waited in ambush for al-Mabhouh to return.
Tamim said they were careful not to disturb anything in the room and left the door locked from the inside.
The team then headed for the airport, some of them flying to Europe and others to Asia, he said. All left Dubai — one of seven semiautonomous emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates — within 19 hours of their arrival.
Dubai police claimed that four members of the alleged cell carried out the killing. Five others, including the woman, were used as spotters and in other planning roles, police said. The mastermind was a man identified as French.
The consul general of France in Dubai, Nada Yafi, declined to comment.
Hamas operatives detained?
A former high-ranking Mossad official, Rami Igra, told Israel Army Radio that the assassin "does look professional" as described by Dubai police. But Igra said it "doesn't look like an Israeli operation" because of the apparent shortcuts, such as allowing members to be videotaped by security cameras.
Igra declined to speculate on who could have carried out the slaying, but noted that al-Mabhouh has many enemies and was at the center of bloody Palestinian feuds.
"He was not new to terror ... and he had many contacts with people who had good reason to want him dead," he said.
The two detained Palestinians were Hamas operatives, said West Bank police spokesman Adnan Damiri, citing sources familiar with the investigation.
Hamas, however, claimed the suspects were linked to the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as part of alleged clandestine links with Israeli intelligence.
In Amman, Jordan, government spokesman Nabil Sharif told the AP that Jordan turned the two Palestinians over to the United Arab Emirates "a few days ago." He declined to give their names or further details.
Top Hamas figures have denied reports that al-Mabhouh was en route to Iran, a major Hamas backer. But the group has not given clear reasons for his presence in Dubai.
Besides Mildiner, the other suspects were identified by Dubai police as Michael Lawrence Barney, James Leonard Clarke, Jonathan Louis Graham, Paul John Keeley and Stephen Daniel Hodes of Britain; Gail Folliard, Evan Dennings and Kevin Daveron of Ireland; Peter Elvinger of France and Michael Bodenheimer of Germany.