Dubai police appealed for an international manhunt today after releasing names and photographs of an alleged 11-member hit squad – including three with Irish passports and six with British passports – accused of killing a Hamas commander last month.
Dubai authorities said they would seek assistance from the global police co-ordination agency Interpol and press individual nations to hunt down the suspects in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, whose body was found on January 20 in his luxury hotel room.
Dubai police identified the Irish suspects as Gail Folliard, Evan Dennings and Kevin Daveron. The Britons were named as Michael Lawrence Barney, James Leonard Clarke, Jonathan Louis Graham, Paul John Keeley, Stephen Daniel Hodes and Melvyn Adam Mildiner. Peter Elvinger of France and Michael Bodenheimer of Germany are the other two named suspects.
Dubai’s attorney general, Essam al-Hemaydan, said international arrest warrants have been issued for those accused of links to the killing.
Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs has said the three alleged Irish citizens do not exist.
The Government said the trio do not appear in Ireland’s records of legitimate passport-holders.
“We are unable to identify any of those three individuals as being genuine Irish citizens. Ireland has issued no passports in those names,” the department said in a statement.
The Government said the Irish passport numbers publicised by Dubai authorities are also counterfeits, because they have the wrong number of digits and contain no letters.
Police in Dubai said the 10 men and one woman travelled to Dubai with European passports and killed al-Mabhouh less than 24 hours after their arrival.
Hamas has accused Israel’s Mossad secret service of masterminding the killing and has vowed revenge.
Dubai’s police chief Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim did not directly implicate Israel at a news conference about al-Mabhouh’s death. But he noted the possibility that “leaders of certain countries gave orders to their intelligence agents to kill” al-Mabhouh, one of the founders of Hamas’s military wing.
At least two Palestinians have been taken into custody in Dubai for alleged links to the murder, said Adnan Damiri, the police spokesman in the West Bank, citing sources familiar with the investigation.
Mr Damiri said the Palestinian suspects were Hamas operatives. But Hamas claimed the suspects were linked to the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as part of alleged clandestine links with Israeli intelligence.
Dubai police did not immediately respond to requests for details on the reported Palestinian arrests.
Dubai police claimed that four members of the alleged cell – three men identified as British and one Irish – 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 on the case.
Lt Gen Tamim’s news conference attempted to create a full narrative of the plot - including surveillance video clips – from the suspects’ airport arrivals to their hasty departures before al-Mabhouh’s body was found in Room 230 at the Al-Bustan Rotana Hotel near Dubai’s international airport.
Lt Gen Tamim’s account portrayed the suspects as operating with chilling efficiency – arriving in Dubai at different times, checking into different hotels and tailing al-Mabhouh from the moment of his arrival in Dubai to when he entered his hotel room.
Some of the suspects even rode in the same lift as al-Mabhouh to verify his room number and later booked a room across the hall, Lt Gen Tamim said.
They paid for all expenses in cash and used different mobile phone cards to avoid being traced, he said.
In the surveillance footage, the female suspect appears to be wearing a wig and at times a big hat and sunglasses to blend in as a tourist. Others were also seen disguised as tourists, wearing baseball caps or tennis outfits and carrying rackets. Lt Gen Tamim also said some suspects donned fake beards.
He said forensic tests indicated al-Mabhouh died of suffocation, but lab analyses were still under way to pinpoint other possible factors in his death.
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, Lt Gen Tamim said.
Four assassins later entered his room while he was out, using an electronic device to open the door, and waited for al-Mabhouh to return.
Lt Gen Tamim said they were careful not to disturb anything in the room and left the door locked from the inside to try to hide the fact that they had broken in.
The team then headed for the airport, some of them flying to Europe and others to Asia, he said. All were out of the United Arab Emirates within 19 hours of their arrivals.
He did not say whether any of the suspects have been formally charged by prosecutors in Dubai, one of seven semi-autonomous emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. But local charges would be needed before the suspects could be added to the Interpol database or to begin any possible extradition efforts in the future.
A Hamas statement last month acknowledged al-Mabhouh was involved in the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989 and said he was still playing a “continuous role in supporting his brothers in the resistance inside the occupied homeland” at the time of his death.
Israeli officials have accused al-Mabhouh of helping smuggle rockets into the Gaza Strip, the coastal territory ruled by the militant group.
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.