Dubai assassination puts tough-talking cop Dahi Khalfan Tamim in spotlight
The expanding investigation into the Dubai assassination of a Hamas official – with Britain alleging this week that Israel forged passports used by the alleged killers – has drawn attention to the methods and style of Dahi Khalfan Tamim, Dubai's longest-serving police chief.
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He has also fanned the controversy of Emiratis feeling lost in their own country as the expat population swells. At the height of Dubai’s construction boom and foreign influx in 2008, he criticized both policies as a threat to Emiratis, urging that the number of outsiders be capped and that locals have more children. “I’m afraid we are building towers but losing the Emirates,” he warned.Skip to next paragraph
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“He’s able to say stuff that’s blatantly contradictory,” says Jim Krane, author of City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism. “Others get fired for much less.”
Last year, as the financial crisis sank one company after another, Tamim threatened a police boycott against any firm that laid off Emiratis “under the pretext of the current economic meltdown.” The warning was seen as a challenge to a major local firm, Al Futtaim, which had recently dismissed 20 locals.
Anger, then silence
Tamim fired off similar tough talk as the Mabhouh investigation intensified. It was the biggest murder case to ever hit Dubai, and was seen as a brazen attack on the emirate’s openness. It came at a stressful time for the chief. The financial crisis had dealt the emirate a major blow. With jobs being cut and wages squeezed, crime was on the rise. Tamim’s mother, whom he used to visit in the mornings before work, passed away in early February just as the case was heating up.
Tamim’s studious presentation of evidence gave way to outlandish threats. He had debuted with a stunning 27-minute video following suspects from their arrival at the airport to the hotel where they killed Mabhouh. He had released the photos and information from the forged passports as well as a detailed chart showing when the suspects entered and exited the country.
Then he vowed to ban Israelis from entering Dubai on second passports, raising eyebrows about racial profiling by saying they would be identified by their accents and faces. He called for the arrest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He ordered spies across the Gulf region to leave “or face extreme measures.” He challenged Israel’s spy agency Mossad to hand over its spies for DNA testing and vowed to resign if the identities didn’t match.
At the same time, behind the scenes, Tamim was sharing additional evidence with Interpol, prompting it to issue arrest notices for all 27 suspects and join an international task force in the investigation.
Then, Tamim went silent.
He may be working with Interpol and other countries as the investigation runs its natural course outside Dubai. He may be holding his fire to secure a promise from Israel that this won’t happen again. (Because the UAE lacks diplomatic relations with Israel, public pressure and private talks are its main tools for dealing with the country.)
He may have been asked to tone it down. A few days before Tamim disappeared from center stage, he received a visit from Qatar, one of the few Arab states that recognize Israel, sparking rumors that it wanted him to stop making a scene.
But many analysts, and certainly his fans, don’t think he should feel embarrassed.
Dubai police have “blown a lid on government intelligence hits. I don’t think anybody’s going to do this in Dubai anymore unless they really don’t” care about being caught, says Mr. Krane.
A Saudi who has lived in Dubai for three years says that, despite the empty threats, Tamim will come out on top. “Even if he doesn’t achieve [the arrest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu], it won’t make him look bad. He’s already made Israel look bad.
“He’s a professional,” continued the Saudi, who asked not to be identified. “He’s been doing this a long time.”