Dubai Government Issues Warrants for Mystery Killers of Hamas Terrorist

By Patrick Goodenough | February 17, 2010 | 7:02 AM EST

Dubai police chief Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim identifies suspects wanted in connection with the killing Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. (AP Photo/Dubai Ruler's Media Office)

( – Authorities in the United Arab Emirates said Tuesday they were issuing international arrest warrants for 11 people – traveling on British, Irish, French and German passports – suspected of assassinating a top Hamas terrorist in a Dubai hotel room last month.

Dubai’s Attorney General, Essam Essa Humeidan, said in a statement carried by the Emirates news agency WAM that the warrants were based on UAE law and agreements with the nations concerned. Interpol’s help is being sought.

The European governments have denied their citizens were involved in the January 19-20 killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a co-founder of Hamas’ “military wing,” Izzadin al-Qassam.

Britain, Germany and Ireland say the six British, one German and three Irish passports used by the suspects had been faked. France is investigating the matter of the French passport carried by the eleventh person.

Britons whose identities were apparently used by six of the suspects have come forward denying any involvement, and telling British media they feared for their safety after having been wrongly linked to the killing.

Hamas has blamed the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, for the assassination. Israel, in line with its usual practice, has not commented.

A Hamas representative in Lebanon earlier this month told Hezbollah’s al-Manar television that Palestinian Authority might have helped Israel kill al-Mabhouh. Dubai police have detained two suspects for questioning, both Palestinians.

Police say al-Mabhouh was killed within hours of arriving in Dubai on January 19 from Damascus, Syria, where he was based.

Video footage released by police chief, Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, showed the suspects tracking the target from the airport to his hotel. He said four of them had later entered his empty room and awaited his return.

Tamim said the suspects – 10 men and one women – had flown out of Dubai hours later, taking various flights to destinations in Europe and Asia. Al-Mabhouh was found dead the following day.

Cause of death has been variously described as suffocation, poisoning and electrocution. (One early report, carried by the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, quoted Izzadin al-Qassam as saying its co-founder had “died of terminal cancer in a hospital in the United Arab Emirates.”)

According to Israeli reports, al-Mabhouh worked out of Damascus on coordinating Iranian weapons shipments to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

He was wanted in Israel for involvement in the deaths of two Israeli soldiers, Avi Sasportas, 21, and Ilan Sa’adon, 19. The two were abducted while hitchhiking, in separate incidents three months apart in 1989.

Killings described

Last week, al Jazeera television aired a video of an interview with al-Mabhouh, recorded in 2009, in which the Palestinian described killing Sasportas and Sa’adon.

He said he and another man, Abu Suhayb, had disguised themselves in the garb of religious Jews and gone scouting for hitchhiking Israeli soldiers.

After picking up Sasportas at a location south of Tel Aviv, he said, “I signed to Abu Suhayb who had a gun, he shot him twice in the face and once in the chest. I heard his sigh at the first shot and he died. We then took him to the already-prepared place and buried him there.”

Describing the death of Sa’adon, who was picked up near Ashkelon on the south coast, al-Mabhouh said that after the shooting the soldier’s “blood was gushing like a fountain and he was crying.”

“We continued to drive to the pre-arranged place and we put him there and we withdrew.”

Al-Mabhouh told the interviewer that Israel had over the years since tried to kill him at least three times and that he while he was vigilant, he would be glad to die as a “martyr.”

After the killing of Sasportas and Sa’adon, Israel arrested Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for ordering their deaths.

But Yassin was released from prison in 1997, as part of a deal with Jordan’s King Hussein after a bungled attempt by the Mossad to kill another senior Hamas terrorist, Khalid Mashaal, in Amman.

The attempt to kill Mashaal – whom Israel had linked directly to recent suicide bombings in Jerusalem – failed and two agents carrying Canadian passports were arrested.

Amid a diplomatic row with both Jordan and Canada, Israel was compelled to release a number of prisoners, including Yassin, in exchange for the agents. (Yassin died in an Israeli air strike in 2004.)

The Mashaal operation was not the only time the issue of foreign passports has led to a diplomatic row between Israel and other nations.

In 2004, two Israelis were arrested in New Zealand after trying to obtain a passport by assuming a New Zealand citizen’s identity. Then Prime Minister Helen Clark accused the two of being Mossad agents and limited diplomatic relations with Israel.

The Israelis were convicted and served several months’ prison time before they were released and left the country.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow