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Interpol puts Dubai suspects on wanted list

Interpol put 11 people suspected in the slaying of a Hamas militant leader in Dubai on its most-wanted list, acting at the request of Dubai authorities.
/ Source: news services

Interpol places 11 people suspected in the slaying of a Hamas militant leader in Dubai on its most-wanted list on Thursday.

The international police agency said it has issued red notices, its highest-level alert, to its member countries worldwide for "11 internationally wanted individuals who have been charged by UAE-Dubai authorities with coordinating and committing the murder."

Interpol said it was acting on the request of Dubai authorities and that it believes the suspects used false passports.

Interpol issued the notices — which include photographs — "to limit the ability of accused murderers from traveling freely using the same false passports."

Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's body was found Jan. 20 in his room at a luxury hotel near Dubai's international airport.

Dubai's police chief said on Thursday that Interpol should issue a warrant to arrest the head of Israel's spy agency Mossad if the organization was indeed responsible for the killing.

In comments to be aired later on Dubai TV, police chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim called for the police authority to issue "a red notice against the head of Mossad ... as a killer in case Mossad is proved to be behind the crime, which is likely now."

Israel has declined to comment on whether its spy agency was responsible, although security officials have also said they were convinced the Mossad was behind the assassination, and harshly criticized the spy agency for allegedly stealing the identities of its own citizens to carry out the hit.

Increasing mysteryNames released by Dubai matched seven people living in Israel, raising questions about why the agency would endanger its own people by using their passport data as cover for a secret death squad.

At the same time, some Israeli experts said the Dubai evidence pointed to a setup to falsely blame Israel.

A vague comment from Israel's foreign minister, who neither confirmed nor denied Mossad's involvement, only added to the spy novel-like mystery surrounding the slaying of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

"Israel never responds, never confirms and never denies," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in Israel's first official comment on the affair, then added: "I don't know why we are assuming that Israel, or the Mossad, used those passports."

Some senior Israeli security officials not directly involved in the case were less circumspect, saying they were convinced it was a Mossad operation because of the motive — Israel says al-Mabhouh supplied Gaza's Hamas rulers with their most dangerous weapons — and the use of Israeli citizens' identities.

A significant Mossad bungle?
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a government order not to discuss the case, characterized the operation as a significant Mossad bungle.

If it develops into a full-blown security scandal, that could harm Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu politically.

Some compared the case to another Mossad embarrassment during Netanyahu's previous term as prime minister, the failed attempt to kill Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in 1997. Two Mossad agents posing as Canadian tourists were captured after injecting Mashaal with poison, and Israel was forced to send an antidote that saved Mashaal's life. Today Mashaal is Hamas' supreme leader.

Still, there was praise for the Dubai operation from some analysts who noted the major difference between it and the Mashaal case is that the latter failed and the former achieved its goal — the assassination of a Hamas commander.

"Al-Mabhouh is dead and all the partners to the operation left Dubai safely," wrote analyst Ronen Bergman of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

Critics slammed the Mossad, not for killing al-Mabhouh on foreign territory but for doing it sloppily and endangering Israeli citizens in the process. A front-page commentary in Israel's Haaretz daily by defense analyst Amir Oren called for the ouster of Mossad director Meir Dagan.

"What is needed now is a swift decision to terminate Dagan's contract and to appoint a new Mossad chief," he wrote. "There's no disease without a cure."

Identities appear to be stolen
Dubai authorities released names, photos and passport numbers of 11 members of the alleged hit squad this week, saying all 11 carried European passports. But most of the identities appeared to have been stolen, and at least seven matched up with real people in Israel who claim they are victims of identity theft.

Among them is Melvyn Adam Mildiner, a dual Israeli-British citizen who said one of the numbers matched his own UK passport. He told The Associated Press he had never been to Dubai.

Others expressed shock that their names were used. Paul John Keeley, a 43-year-old father of three, told Haaretz he was worried "that someone will try to harm us." Stephen Hodes told Israel Radio: "I'm simply afraid. These are powerful forces."

The revelations by Dubai, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, raised many questions: Could someone be trying to make it look like the Mossad carried out the hit? Might Israel have wanted to leave behind a fingerprint to enhance the Mossad's mystique? Did Israel underestimate Dubai's policing abilities? Why would Israel risk exposing 11 agents by allowing them to be filmed by Dubai surveillance cameras, even if they were disguised?

Answers were not forthcoming, yet if Israeli involvement is confirmed, the al-Mabhouh killing is likely to be remembered as one of the more stunning hits in the Mossad's history of undercover operations.

The affair could have unwanted diplomatic repercussions for Israel. Britain's Foreign Office summoned Israeli Ambassador Ron Prossor for talks about the case Thursday.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised an inquiry, saying: "The British passport is an important document that has got to be held with care."