By Chip Cummins and Alistair MacDonald, The Wall Street Journal – 18 Feb 2010
Authorities in the United Arab Emirates are probing five U.S.-issued credit card accounts, which officials say were used by five of the 11 suspects in the January killing of a top Hamas leader in Dubai, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The credit cards, issued by a U.S.-based banking institution, were used to buy travel-related items, such as plane tickets, connected to the alleged assassination operation, this person said. Dubai police disclosed in a Monday press conference here that they were seeking 10 men and one women in connection with the killing last month of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior commander in the Palestinian militant group. His body was found in a Dubai hotel room on Jan. 20.
Meanwhile, Dubai’s police chief, in a series of interviews with the local press Thursday, gave flatly blamed Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad was behind the plot, after several weeks of contradictory statements from his office about Israel’s alleged involvement.
On Thursday, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim was quoted by The National, an Abu Dhabi-based, English-language paper, saying he was confident that Israeli agents were linked to the assassination.
“Our investigations reveal that Mossad is involved in the murder of al-Mabhouh. It is 99%, if not 100%, that Mossad is standing behind the murder,” he told the newspaper’s Web site.
The accusation comes as European capitals ratcheted up pressure on Israel, amid indications that the perpetrators of the crime stole the identity of citizens of the U.K., Ireland, Germany and France.
On Monday, Dubai police released photos and passport details of the 11 suspects, identifying six of them as British passport holders, three as Irish citizens, including the one woman, a German and a Frenchman. Officials have also said they have detained two Palestinians allegedly related to the plot and were trying to identify five others, who may have helped the core team of 11.
The release of the passport details set off a political furor in Europe and Israel, which continued into Thursday. The identified passport holders quickly surfaced, bearing little resemblance to the released passport photos, suggesting their identities had been stolen by the alleged killers.
The U.K., Ireland and France have all summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their countries to meetings, seeking explanations. British foreign minister David Miliband said Thursday the U.K. wanted Israel to cooperate fully in an investigation into the apparent fraudulent use of British passports in the case.
A senior U.K. foreign ministry official held a 20-minute meeting with Israel’s ambassador to London Thursday morning. The U.K. said on Wednesday the meeting would be aimed at helping Israel-based U.K. citizens, whose passports were allegedly used.
But on Thursday, officials appeared to harden their rhetoric. Mr. Miliband, who had been briefed on the meeting with the Israeli ambassador, said that it was made clear “how seriously” the U.K. takes the fraudulent use of British passports. “We want to give Israel every opportunity to share with us what they know about this incident,” he said. Mr. Miliband said he will meet and discuss the issue with the Israeli Foreign Minister on Monday in Brussels.
Mr. Miliband, and earlier Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have both said, however, said that an investigation must be completed before conclusions can be drawn. British opposition politicians continued to keep the heat up on the Israelis, when David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, said that the Israeli government “needs to provide some answers.”
France has asked the Israeli ambassador for an explanation, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday. The French are also co-operating with the authorities in Dubai, who are leading the investigation.
Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs met with Israel’s ambassador to Dublin Thursday morning to press for details on the use of Irish passports. “The (Israeli) ambassador said that he had no information on the matter,” a spokesman for the DFA said.
Israeli officials have declined to confirm or deny any involvement, their long-standing practice. The country’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told Israeli Army Radio on Wednesday there is no proof Mossad carried out the killings. Israel’s ambassador to London, Ron Proser, said: “I was unable to shed any further light on the events in question.”
Several of the European passport holders appeared to be dual Israeli citizens, living in Israel. That drew alarm in Israel, seeming to add substance to suspicions in Israel and abroad that the assassination was the work of the Mossad.
Commentators in Israel, who have offered no evidence of Mossad involvement, criticized the agency nonetheless for seeming to endanger Israeli citizens by stealing their identity. Analysts, meanwhile, suggested another state’s intelligence service could be using the operation to damage Mossad’s credibility.
In addition to the 11 identified suspects, Dubai officials are trying to identify at least five others, including another woman, who were caught on video surveillance and may have been related to the operation, the person familiar with the situation said.
The five credit cards uncovered in the investigation could provide a fresh thread in the probe, leading to the U.S. The person familiar with the situation said U.S. investigators hadn’t yet joined the probe, but that the U.A.E. was getting “considerable cooperation” from several, other friendly states in the investigation. Dubai is one of seven, semi-autonomous emirates that make up the U.A.E. An official in the U.S. embassy in the U.A.E. wasn’t immediately reachable for comment on Thursday.