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British passports of Hamas hit team are fake, Britain and Ireland say


Latest update : 2010-02-16

Britain and Ireland have said that passports used by nine members of a suspected hit squad accused of assassinating top Hamas commander Mahmud al-Mabhuh in Dubai are fake. Hamas has accused Israel of killing Mabhuh.

AFP - Britain and Ireland said Tuesday that passports used by nine members of a suspected hit squad accused of assassinating a top Hamas commander in Dubai are fake.

After the authorities in the Gulf said all 11 of those suspected of killing Mahmud al-Mabhuh last month held European passports, the governments in London and Dublin insisted their nationals were not involved.

Hamas, the militant Palestinian movement which rules the Gaza Strip, has accused Israel of killing 50-year-old Mabhuh, who was found dead in his luxury hotel room, and vowed revenge.

"We are aware that the holders of six British passports have been named in this case. We believe the passports used were fraudulent and have begun our own investigation," said a spokesman for the Foreign Office in London.

"We have informed the authorities in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) that this is the case, and continue to cooperate closely with the Emiratis on this matter."

Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan announced Monday that the alleged 11-strong hit team was made up of six British passport holders, three with Irish passports, and the holders of a German and a French passport.

The suspects' pictures and names were published, along with CCTV footage showing their whereabouts and disguises in the run-up to the January 20 killing of Mabhuh, a founder of the militant group's armed wing.

Its members have said Mabhuh, who was based in the Syrian capital Damascus, was on a visit to Dubai to buy weapons for Hamas's armed wing.

Khalfan said it was most likely that information about Mabhuh was "leaked" from people close to him, adding that the militant had booked his hotel room only a day before his arrival on January 19 -- the same day he was killed.

On Tuesday, Dubai prosecutors issued an "international arrest warrant" against the 11, according to a statement.

Irish authorities also said none of their nationals were involved.

"We have run the passport numbers and names through our system and there are no passports in those names or with those numbers," said an Irish foreign affairs department spokesman.

"These purported passports are false."

While there was no response from Germany, the French foreign ministry said it was "not able to confirm the nationality of this person".

"To the best of our knowledge, we have not received an extradition request from the United Arab Emirates," said Christine Fages, a ministry spokeswoman.

Israel has made no comment about the killing of Mabhuh but its overseas Mossad spy agency has targeted Hamas leaders in the past.

It was severely embarrassed by a failed attempt to assassinate the movement's supremo Khaled Meshaal in the Jordanian capital Amman in 1997.

New Zealand briefly suspended diplomatic relations with the Jewish state after two Israelis believed to have been Mossad agents were jailed by a court in Auckland for possessing fake passports in 2004.

Michael Higgins, a lawmaker for Ireland's opposition Labour Party, said the use of fraudulent Irish passport was "of grave concern."

"It is not clear who was responsible for this killing, although local police in Dubai are not ruling out the involvement of the Israeli security services," Higgins said.

"In that light, it is now incumbent on the (Irish) minister for foreign affairs to seek assurances from the Israeli government that this is not the case."

Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan has said he will issue an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if investigators show Mossad was behind the killing.

The police have also said they were questioning two Palestinians suspected of involvement in the murder. The two men, both residents of the United Arab Emirates, had "fled to Jordan" after the killing.

Khalfan said they were extradited from Jordan "three days ago," pointing to a "strong suspicion" against one of the two who had met a member of the suspected hit team before the assassination.

Date created : 2010-02-16


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