In Dubai, hit squad used Mossad-style tactics to kill Hamas leader

Evidence mounted on Tuesday that the 11-member assassination team that allegedly killed Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was traveling on fake passports. Suspicion has fallen on Israel and its Mossad intelligence service, which has carried out overseas assassinations in the past.

Jumana ElHeloueh/Reuters
Chief of Dubai Police Dahi Khalfan Tamim speaks during a news conference about the recent killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas military commander, in Dubai Monday.

The spy-thriller assassination of the senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, alleged to be a go-between for the channeling of Iranian weapons to the Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip, was carried out with trained precision.

An 11-member team traveling on European passports flew to Dubai, trailed their quarry from the airport, and took a room across from Mr. Mabhouh's at the swank Al Bustan Rotana hotel. Four of them broke in to his room while he was out at meetings. When Mabhouh returned they killed him, with reports out of Dubai variously saying he was strangled to death or poisoned.

The team departed the tiny emirate shortly thereafter – in and out of the country in under 24 hours, having paid for everything in cash and, it emerged Monday, largely traveling on false passports.

On Monday the Dubai government released circuit camera recordings from the hotel from January 19, the day Mabhouh was killed, which includes footage of some of the alleged assailants. They also released photos and passport numbers for the 11-member team. Nine of them were traveling on British and Irish passports that the two countries have since said were fakes.

A British immigrant to Israel, whose name was used on one of the passports and who now lives near Jerusalem, told local reporters that he's never been to Dubai and pointed out that the picture of the man traveling under his name looks nothing like him. Israel's Channel 2 reported that the names of two other British immigrants to Israel have been used on forged British passports.

Israel has not taken responsibility for the killing. Dubai said that while it believes a foreign state may have been involved in the murder, it has not fingered Isreal. Hamas, for its part, is convinced that Israel was involved and has already vowed revenge.

Whatever the truth, Israel's Mossad intelligence service has been involved with foreign assassination attempts in the past and has used identity theft to get their operatives into position. Mabhouh was wanted in Israel for the murder of two Israeli soldiers in 1989, a crime that Hamas acknowledged having organized recently.

Here's a list of prominent Mossad linked hits:

1. Munich Olympics aftermath. At the Munich Olympics of 1972, operatives from Palestinian militant group Black September took a number of Israeli athletes hostage, eventually killing 11 Israeli Athletes and coaches and one West German policeman. In the aftermath of the killings, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir authorized the Mossad to put together a covert squad of hit men to go after Black September's leaders. In 1973 a team of Israeli commandos landed at a deserted beach outside Beirut and proceeded to kill three men linked to either Black September or the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1973 at the ski resort of Lillehammer, Norway, Mossad assassins shot and killed Moroccan waiter Ahmed Bouchikhi, apparently mistaking him for PLO intelligence chief Hassan Salameh, who was accused of organizing the Munich massacre. Five Mossad agents were jailed for their involvement in Norway, but later pardoned. Mr. Salameh was later assassinated in Lebanon.

2. Attempted assassination of Khaled al-Meshaal. In 1997, Mossad leaders bungled a bizarre assassination attempt on Hamas leader Khaled al-Meshaal while he was living in Jordan. Mr. Meshaal, who has since risen to lead Hamas and was at the time an important military commander, had a deadly nerve poison injected into his ear by two Israeli agents traveling on forged Canadian passports – the identities for which were stolen. Mr. Meshaal's bodyguard chased down the two attackers and despite taking a nasty gash in the head, managed to keep them tied up until Jordanian cops arrived. With the agents in custody and apparently talking, Jordan's King Hussein pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had reportedly ordered the attempted assassination, to send a Mossad agent with the antidote. Netanyahu relented within a day, and the Mossad agents were later freed.

3. Assassination of Izz el-Deen al-Sheikh Khalil. Mr. Khalil, then in charge of Hamas military operations outside the Palestinian territories, was killed in September 2004 when his car exploded in Damascus, the Syrian capital. Israeli officials privately said at the time they had planted the bomb and that it was in response to two bus bombings in the Israeli city of Bersheeba that killed 16 civilians that August. Then, as now, Hamas vowed revenge for the attack.

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