Dubai authorities have asked the FBI to investigate the links between suspects in the murder of the Hamas leader Mahmoud al Mabhouh and their American-issued payment cards, an FBI source confirmed yesterday. The investigation will seek to discover the source of the funds used in the January 19 assassination at a Dubai hotel, particularly to establish if there is a link to Israel or its intelligence agency Mossad. Thirteen of the 27 suspects used prepaid MasterCards issued by MetaBank, a regional American bank, to purchase plane tickets and book hotel rooms, according to Dubai Police.
Prepaid cards allow the holder to load money onto the card and use it without opening a traditional credit card account. FBI investigators have the capability to examine the source of the money on the cards. The FBI, as is customary, would neither confirm nor deny whether an investigation had been launched. A representative from the FBI in Washington, DC told The National last week: "As there was no crime committed here, there would have to be a formal request [from the authorities in Dubai] for the FBI to be involved in the investigation."
The Dubai Police Chief, Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, said yesterday that "all countries are co-operating with us on every step". Speaking on the sidelines of the International Security National Resilience conference in Abu Dhabi, Gen Tamim would not confirm if the US was participating in the investigation. According to Dubai Police, the cards from Iowa-based Metabank bore the same names as the fake passports used by the alleged assassins to enter and leave the UAE.
Intelligence sources have said the magnetic strip on the cards may contain information linking all of them to one bank account. A MetaBank spokeswoman, Lisa Binder, said: "MetaBank declines comment pending a factual review of this matter." The cards were issued by New-York based Payoneer under the umbrella of Metabank. Payoneer, similar to Paypal, allows card holders to make purchases using the card without opening a bank account. In the pre-paid system, money is deposited directly onto the cards, either with cash at a bank, or electronically from an existing bank account.
Although Payoneer has been reported to have links with Israel and its military, there has been no direct link to Mossad. Among Payoneer's investors are Greylock Partners, a venture capital firm. One of the partners of Greylock is Moshe Mor, who "launched Greylock's investment activities in Israel in 2002" according to Greylock's website. "He also served six years in the Israeli army as a captain in the military intelligence branch," Mr Mor's online portfolio said.
One of the alleged killers, who used the alias Roy Allan Cannon, used a MasterCard issued by Payoneer. Dubai Police initially said the suspect, who was holding a British passport, travelled to Milan, Italy. Gen Tamim confirmed yesterday that he was one of two suspects tracked back to the United States. The second was a man who used the name Evan Dennings and held an Irish passport. He arrived on January 18, the day before the murder, and left two days later for Zurich.
Also yesterday, Gen Tamim said people travelling to the UAE who are suspected of having Israeli citizenship will not be allowed to enter the country regardless of what passport they hold. He said the police had previously allowed Israelis who held dual citizenship to enter the country using their other passport. If such a policy were implemented, it could affect people who have dual citizenship in Israel and another western country and live in the UAE. It is often easier for such people to travel in the Middle East using their western passports.
Gen Tamim claimed the police could identify Israelis by physical features and the way they speak. "It is easy for us to identify [Israelis], through their face or when they speak any other language, he said. "We used to respect them when they would come holding European passports; we regarded them as Europeans and never treated them badly. But from now on, anyone we suspect to have a dual citizenship, they will be treated with great suspicion."
* With additional reporting from Mahmoud Habboush and Wafa Issa