The countries also say they have yet to receive a request of help from Dubai about the case. The murdered man Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was a senior Hamas commander. He was also one of the founders of the Qassam brigades which were responsible for the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and in the subsequent heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip following Israel’s incursion in December 2008. Al-Mabhouh was born in Gaza in 1960 and has been known to Israeli authorities since as far back as 1989 when he was involved in the abduction and murder of two IDF members. He has been the target of two previous assassination attempts: a car bombing and a poisoning. The poisoning took place in Beirut just six months ago and rendered him unconscious for 30 hours.
In recent years al-Mabhouh was a key negotiator between Hamas and Iran. On 19 January he flew from Syria to Dubai stopping off there on his way to Bangkok. He arrived in the early afternoon without bodyguards and booked into the Al Bustan Rotana hotel using a false identity. He left the hotel an hour later and returned around 8.25pm that evening. It was likely he was being tailed during his absence. His wife rang a half hour later but there was no answer. Israeli news agency Inyan Merkazi reported a four-member squad of Shin Bet and Mossad agents interrogated al-Mabhouh before executing him. Dubai Police say he was dead by 9pm. Hotel footage show suspects following him to his room in the afternoon before checking into the room opposite. Around 8pm they gained entry to his room and waited for his return.
Al-Mahmoud’s body was found the following morning and taken for a police examination. Burns from a stun gun were found under his ear, in his groin and on his chest. Pathologists discovered his nose bled before death. They found blood on a pillow they believe was placed over his nose and mouth to suffocate him. Results from a preliminary forensic report by the Dubai police found that al-Mabhouh was first paralysed via electric shock to his ears, legs, heart and genitals and then suffocated. Dubai police identified 11 people they suspected of involvement in the murder. Five of them carried out the crime while the remaining six served as lookouts. Another four were later added to the list and they all travelled on fake Western passports, six UK, five Irish, three Australian, one French and one German. The fact that many of the passports share names with people living in Israel reinforced widespread suspicion about Mossad involvement.
Reaction in the west to al-Mahmoud’s killing was initially muted. The subtext was here was a known terrorist who was simply getting his just desserts. But reaction quickly changed once it became apparent that Israeli agents used western passports in the hit. Foreign ministers of all the countries involved complained to Israel about the identity theft involved. The EU called the nature of the killing “profoundly disturbing”. Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was also distinctly uneasy in criticising Israel but said it would not be considered the “act of a friend.”
UK Police are now in Israel investigating the passport theft. There they will interview six British-Israeli nationals whose identities were stolen by the suspected killers. Officers say they are being viewed as potential witnesses to a crime, which is the fraudulent use of a passport, and will not be questioned or interviewed as suspects. British authorities say they believe the Israeli secret service Mossad was involved which Israel has refused to confirm or deny.
In a penetrating article in New Matilda last week, Mark Steven skewered western reaction to the crime. Steven said the West’s response to the assassination was simply the result of their principal and shared interest in the expropriation of national identities rather than a horror of al-Mahmoud’s death.” While assassination is condemnable, it seems the requisition of a European or an Australian identity is utterly unforgivable,” he wrote. Stevens asked the question: “While life that coheres behind names printed on European passports is to be valued highly, what is the worth of life that only exists under collective labels, such as ‘Israel’ or ‘Palestine’?”