Feb. 16, 2010 -- All signs point to an Israeli hit squad, using fake passports and elaborate disguises, in the assassination of a top Hamas leader in a Dubai hotel room, according to current and former intelligence officials.
Police in Dubai have issued international arrest warrants for eleven people wanted in the murder of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, a Hamas military commander, who was found dead in his room at the five-star Al Bustan Rotana Hotel in Dubai.
Police made public surveillance footage from inside the hotel showing members of the group disguised in wigs, with false facial hair. Two members of the group can be seen dressed in shorts, with tennis rackets, as part of their cover as tourists, police said.
The 11 all travelled on European passports which appear to be forged, according to authorities.
Three of the suspects travelled on Irish passports, according to Dubai police. Authorities in Ireland said today they could find no record of any passports issued "with details corresponding" to those used in Dubai.
"It has all the earmarks of an Israeli assassination," said former CIA intelligence officer Robert Baer. "There are very few intelligence agencies that have the ability to pull off something like this."
Intelligence officials say the Israeli intelligence unit, Mossad, has returned to its "old school" methods in tracking down people it suspects could be threats to Israel.
"Mabhouh was probably in Dubai to meet with the Iranians, because that's where you go to do business or arrange arms shipments with them," said Baer.
Mahmoud al-Mabhouh Shocked with Taser
Dubai authorities say Mabhouh died of suffocation after being shocked with a taser, burned with cigarettes and then smothered with a pillow.
"It was quiet, low profile, unlike a James Bond operation," said Roni Shaked, an Israeli journalist and former field agent with the Israeli version of the FBI. "I am convinced it is the work of the Israelis," he said.
The surveillance footage is described by Dubai authorities as capturing the 11-member team as it arrived at the Dubai airport, checked into the hotel, and then strolled through a shopping center.
In one sequence, a suspect identified as Kevin Daveron enters a bathroom and emerges wearing a wig and a change of clothes.
"This is a highly sophisticated operation conducted by people who knew when al Mabhouh would arrive in the country," said Dubai police chief General Dahi Khalfan al Tamim.
The alleged assassins made a speedy escape through Dubai airport to Hong Kong and a handful of European destinations. Dubai Police said they know where the suspects are now, and that they would be pursuing Interpol warrants for their arrest.
Mabhouh was a Hamas commander known for founding the Ezzedine Al Qassem brigade, the military wing of the Islamist Palestinian movement, and was believed to be supplying rockets and arms supplies to Hamas fighters. The National newspaper reported Mabhouh was wanted in Israel for the 1989 kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers.
On Tuesday a Hamas spokesman declined to comment on the case, but neither Hamas nor Israeli officials have officially denied allegations that Mossad was behind the killing.
'It could have been Mossad'
Dubai officials privately have suggested Mossad may be involved, but have also floated alternate theories.
"It could have been Mossad, it could be a subcontract of Mossad, it could be an Arab government trying to do a favor for another government, or it could be a deal gone bad. Mossad would strike anywhere," said Dr. Theodore Karasik, a security expert with Dubai-based think tank INEGMA.
Dubai has been the scene of several high-profile assassinations over the past two years, in particular the murder of Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim and the killing of Chechen ex-rebel leader Sulim Yamadayev. Both of them were slain in a luxury seaside complex know as the Jumeirah Beach Residences. Yamadayev was shot in the parking garage with the murder weapon, a gold-plated pistol, left behind at the crime scene.
The death of Mabhouh brought echoes of regional vendettas onto the emirate's soil. Dubai, an environment largely free of local politics, is a melting pot of people and interests that overlap and often collide. Its role as a transit hub means people come and go in every direction. Mabhouh, based in Syria, flew to Dubai from Damascus, and was slated to leave a day later to the Sudan.