Dubai police have named 15 more suspects - all reckoned to have entered the UAE using counterfeit Western passports - wanted over the murder of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in the Gulf state last month.
The new suspects - alleged to have laid the groundwork for the main 11 person hit squad by providing logistical support - bring the total number of those alleged to have taken part in the hit to at least 26, or more like a Winter Olympics squad than a football team. All are reckoned to have entered the country using either fake or fraudulently obtained passports.
In total, 12 of the suspects used British passports, six used Irish passports and three had Australian travel documents. Four others used forged French travel documents and one a counterfeit German passport. Within hours of the release of the second batch of names it was established that all of the suspects were travelling under false identities, the Daily Mail reports.
The suspect 26 does not include two Palestinian suspects arrested in Jordan and extradited back to the UAE.
Cloak and dagger
The assassination, which reads like a chapter from Steven Spielberg spy flick Munich, bears the hallmarks of a Mossad operation. Israel has neither confirmed or denied its involvement in the murder of al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas military commander suspected in the involvement of arms trafficking between Iran and militants in Gaza, now reckoned to have stopped over in Dubai in route to China, The Daily Telegraph reports.
Last week Dubai police released the names of 11 suspects, six of whom entered the country using UK passports, matching the names of six Israeli-resident British citizens who hold dual nationality. These names were used as aliases in fake passports used by the alleged assassins. Among those people whose identities were stolen are Melvyn Mildiner, an Israel-resident British IT worker.
Israeli paper Haaretz reports that 10 of the 15 fresh suspects have the same names as Israelis who hold dual citizenship with other countries.
The Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) has launched an investigation into the the misuse of British passports. European foreign ministers have banded together to condemn the misuse of Western passports.
"The EU strongly condemns the fact that those involved in this action used fraudulent EU member states' passports and credit cards acquired through the theft of EU citizen's identities," UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a FCO-issued release after the meeting. Meanwhile Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant denied reports that the UK government had any forewarning of the attack, and promised to support affected UK citizens in a Commons statement on 22 February.
This misuse of European and now Australian passports has raised the issue of whether forged biometric passports, meant to prevent impersonation, were used in the attack or whether immigration screening shortcomings at Dubai airport allowed the hit squad to enter the country.
A Foreign Office spokesman told El Reg last week that the holder of all six of the initial suspect passports were forgeries of older passports without biometric chips. Modern ePassports with biometric chips containing a digitally signed image of a holder's face have been issued as standard by the UK since 2006.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told its parliament on Thursday that the three Australian passports were issued in 2003 and "appear to have been duplicated or altered", CNN reports. Like other Western governments before it, Australia plans to call the Israeli ambassador to the country in to ask for promises of co-operation on an investigation into the misuse of its passports.
Appointment with Death
Dubai police said that the assassins hacked into the door lock to enter al-Mabhouh's hotel room at the luxury Al Bustan Hotel before laying in wait. The Hamas commander was overpowered and subsequently murdered by a combination of suffocation and electrocution before his assassins fled.
The perpetrators used an electronic device to enter the room of the victim and then waited for his arrival to execute their crime, after which they immediately left the hotel. The murder was carried out in a very short time that did not exceed 20 minutes, from the moment the victim entered the hotel until the perpetrators left the scene of the crime and directly headed for the airport.
The accused had formed four teams for monitoring, with each team consisting of two people, while the fifth group of four focused on the task of executing the crime, according to CCTV tapes of all locations, especially in Al Bustan Hotel, which was used by the victim, on January 19, 2010.
International police agency Interpol issued stop and detain (red) notices against the 11 main suspects last week. Dubai police said that 14 of the suspects used credit cards issued by US-based MetaBank to book flights and hotel accommodation, CNN adds.
Investigators reckon most of the suspects left rapidly by air to either Europe or the far East but two of the 'Australians' reportedly took a boat to Iran, a country where Westerners often have trouble getting visas. Iran is an ally to Hamas, adding extra intrigue to an already murky situation. ®