Dubai said on Wednesday that it has 15 more suspects in the January assassination of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Authorities there have alleged his murder was part of an international plot using fake passports and identities stolen from a number of European nationals and coordinated by the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency.
Israel has refused to confirm or deny Mossad involvement and Dubai has not yet provided evidence to back up its claim.
Wednesday's news took the total number of suspects in Mr. Mahbouh's murder to 26. As with the earlier announced suspects, most of the new 15 are alleged to have traveled to Dubai on European passports -- the lion's share from Britain but some from Ireland, France and Germany.
The alleged spy-thriller nature of Mabhouh's killing emerged earlier this month when Dubai released the names, photographs, and passport details of what it described as an 11 member hit squad that arrived in Dubai, stalked Mabhouh with layered surveillance to his room at the Bustan Rotana Hotel, killed him with a combination of electrocution and suffocation, and then departed the country all in under 20 hours.
Most of the passports used by the first 11 suspects have since been found to have been fakes, and some of the names used belonged to British and Irish immigrants to Israel. The British foreign office was looking into whether the passports used by the new suspects -- six of which Dubai said were British -- are fakes.
According to Ynetnews, citing a website affiliated with Fatah, Syrian authorities have detained Hamas member Muhammad Nasser in connection with the murder. There has been rampant speculation that someone close to Mahbouh was involved in his murder, since a large team of alleged assassins seemed to know about his travel plans and whereabouts in advance.
Earlier reports had said that Hamas operative Nahro Massoud was being questioned in Damascus. There are also two Palestinians in detention in Dubai on allegations they helped the killers who are affiliated with Fatah.
Mr. Nasser was an associate of Mr. Mabhouh and would have known about his movements, Ynetnews said, adding that they worked together two decades ago in the kidnapping and murder of two Israeli soldiers.
Dubai police have asked Syria to hand Mr. Nasser and other Hamas members over for questioning, the report said, citing an Arab diplomatic source.
Hamas has downplayed the possibility of Palestinian involvement in the murder, saying it will continue to seek reconciliation with Hamas.
Mustafa Al Ani, head of security and defense studies at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, says that while there is no evidence that Hamas members were involved, the allegation is plausible because of the need for on-the-ground intelligence.
“Yes, you monitor his communications, mobile, Internet. But you always need a human factor to confirm the information. So Hamas has to do their investigation,” he said.
Mossad gets the blame – or bragging rights
Although Israel has faced criticism abroad and at home in recent weeks over the widespread belief that its Mossad spy agency carried out the assassination, it may also be benefiting from the association.
Whether Mossad did it or not, says Christopher Davidson, author of a book about Dubai, “It’s not too bad for Israel because it strikes fear into the hearts of Israel’s enemies.”
The intimidation factor matters, Israel’s former chief of staff Dan Halutz said on Tuesday at a conference at Tel Aviv University. Referring to the 2008 murder of senior Hezbollah figure Imad Mughniyeh, “his assassination was attributed to Israel, and this created deterrence. It is not for nothing that [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah has been sitting in a bunker for three and a half years. He thought and still thinks that the moment we can, we will assassinate him. It damages their conduct and deters [them].”
The murder has also been criticized for leaving behind so much video footage and for stealing Israeli citizens’ identities. The use of forged passports also piqued Europe.
Supporters of Mossad are showing their pride – sales of T-shirts glorifying the spy agency have risen tenfold since it was linked to the murder of Mabhouh, a leading mail-order company of Israeli products told the Irish Times.
Taking advantage of the publicity, the firm started a “Show off your Mossad and Israeli pride” marketing campaign earlier this week, said marketing manager Eran Davidov. One of the most popular shirts bears an image of a pistol and says, “Don’t mess with the Mossad.”