Thursday, February 18, 2010


Eleven-Man Team Assassinates Hamas Commander (Updated)

Anatomy of an assassination. (Update: "Our investigations reveal that Mossad is involved.")

February 18, 2010 - by Annie Jacobsen (See update at end of article.)

Last month, on the night of January 19, Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh arrived in Dubai, oddly without his bodyguards. He checked into the five-star Al-Bustan Rotana Hotel. He was allegedly on a weapons-buying trip.

A little after midnight that same night, eleven European tourists arrived at the Dubai airport carrying tennis rackets and various kinds of sporting equipment, apparently on vacation. Images of the group were captured on CCTV cameras at the airport.

The following afternoon, one of the eleven European tourists checked into the Al-Bustan Rotana Hotel, specifically into room 237 located directly across the hall from where al-Mabhouh was staying in room 230. Throughout the day, all eleven Europeans roamed around the luxury hotel. CCTV camera footage released by the Dubai police shows one of the tourists entering a bathroom. When he emerges, he’s wearing a false beard and a baseball cap. The group was not made up of tourists; rather, they were an assassination team on a mission to kill the commander from Hamas. One member of the hit squad, a female, roams around the hotel in a dark wig, a floppy hat, and sunglasses.

That evening, a little after 8:00 p.m., Mabhouh arrived back at the hotel and immediately went to his room. According to Dubai’s chief of police Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, forensic tests indicate that within the hour, Mabhouh was dead, having been suffocated to death. Two hours after the attack, the assassins left Dubai. They were in the country for only 19 hours.

For weeks, Dubai police quietly investigated the crime. And then earlier this week, Dubai police announced that through Interpol they had issued arrest warrants for the eleven European suspects, as well as six other people they say may have helped facilitate the crime. Dubai police also released the CCTV footage which has been captivating British TV audiences all week. The team of assassins, disguised with beards, hats, and tennis racquets, can be seen conducting surveillance around the hotel. Lieutenant General Tamim told reporters: “We have identified the suspects … and will take legal action against anyone or any party which will prove to stand behind the murder.”

At this point, the story gets complicated. The assassins used the identities of British, Irish, German and French citizens, a number of whom claim never to have been to Dubai. British citizen Melvyn Mildiner is one of the individuals the Dubai police named as a member of the assassin team. Mildiner told the Daily Mail he has never even been in Dubai. “It’s not me,” he said. “I don’t know how this happened or who chose my name or why, but hopefully we’ll find out soon.” Mildiner says that the picture of him released by Dubai police is also not the picture he has in his own passport. Another one of the British suspects is 54-year-old Michael Lawrence Barney. “I’ve just had a quadruple heart bypass, I’m not exactly spy material,” Barney said from his home in Israel. As for the alleged Irish citizens, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs says that none of the people named as assassins from Ireland actually exist. There has been little said of the men allegedly of German and French nationalities.

Hamas accuses Israel of ordering the assassination. Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Army Radio that the evidence was circumstantial. “There is no reason to think that it was the Israeli Mossad, and not some other intelligence service or country up to some mischief,” Lieberman said. He also did not deny Israel’s involvement. Meanwhile, the foreign office in London is remaining relatively quiet about the matter, saying only that the investigation is in a very early stage.

There is a strange twist. Just two weeks before his death, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh made a video confession. For the record, he admits to his role in the 1989 kidnapping and murdering of two Israeli soldiers, Ilan Saadon and Avi Sasportas. It is not clear why Mabhouh would make a video confession like this after two decades and just weeks before his own murder.

(To read a timeline of the events and watch a video of the suspects, click here.)

Update (10:45 PST):

Things are ratcheting up in the Persian Gulf.

Dubai police chief Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim has now officially fingered Mossad in last month’s murder of a Hamas commander there. “Our investigations reveal that Mossad is involved in the murder of al-Mabhouh,” he told the English-language newspaper The National. “It is 99% if not 100% that Mossad is standing behind the murder.”

And yet two additional suspects, both Palestinians, are also in custody in Dubai on charges that they helped the 11-man assassination team. Tamim says the men are linked to Fatah, which is Hamas’ rival.

Haaretz identified the Palestinian suspects in custody as Ahmad Hasnin, a Palestinian intelligence agent, and Anwar Shekhaiber, a man who works for the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

As tensions rise between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, they also rise between Hamas and Fatah. Fatah receives money and support from the United States, but working with Israel is colluding with public enemy No.1.

Still no word on why Mabhouh left his safe haven in Damascus, Syria, without his own personal security team. Rumors are that Mabhouh was in Dubai buying weapons from Iran.

Annie Jacobsen writes about aviation and intelligence. She blogs at and is working on a new book for Little Brown and Company.

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