Most of the passports carried by the 11 known suspects in the murder of Mahmoud al Mabhouh were almost certainly fakes, officials said yesterday.
Documents were false, Britain and Ireland say
LONDON // Most of the passports carried by the 11 known suspects in the murder of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, killed in a Dubai hotel room last month, were almost certainly fakes, officials said yesterday. The British government described the UK passports carried by six alleged members of the hit team as "fraudulent", while officials in Dublin stated that the two men and one woman named as being Irish did not exist.
"We are unable to identify any of those three individuals as being genuine Irish citizens," said a spokesman for the department of foreign affairs. "Ireland has issued no passports in those names." He added that the Irish passport numbers sent by the authorities in Dubai bore the wrong number of digits and contained no letters, further evidence that they were fake. In Britain, investigations were continuing last night into the six suspects who arrived on UK passports, but early indications were that these documents were also false.
At least some of the six have names of genuine UK passport-holders, but none of those traced so far were in Dubai at the time of the murder, which police said occurred on January 19 at the Al Bustan Rotana hotel in Dubai. A spokesman for the foreign office said: "This is an ongoing Emirati investigation to which we have offered our assistance and support. ... We have informed the authorities in the UAE that [the passports are fake], and continue to co-operate closely with the Emiratis on this matter."
Police in Dubai issued arrest warrants for all 11 named suspects yesterday. Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the chief of Dubai Police, said the fact that the passports were fraudulent meant that officers had correctly identified the suspects. "The fact that these people were able to use fake European passports in European airports raises many questions about security measures in several countries," Gen Tamim said. He added that police had "strong evidence", besides the 11 photographs released, but declined to say what it might be.
Gen Tamim reiterated that the Israeli foreign intelligence agency Mossad could be behind the killing. "The probability that Mossad is behind the assassination outweighs any other," he said. During a briefing on Monday, Gen Tamim said two Palestinians, both identified as UAE residents, had been detained in connection with the murder. Khairi al Oraidi, the Palestinian ambassador, said yesterday he had no prior knowledge of the detentions. "The embassy had no information about these arrests," he said, adding that the embassy would follow up with the Dubai authorities.
Melvyn Adam Mildiner, who was named as one of the six Britons who entered Dubai before the killing, flatly denied yesterday that he was involved. The British-born computer specialist, who now lives with his wife and their children just outside Jerusalem, said: "I am obviously angry, upset and scared any number of things. And I'm looking into what I can do to try to sort things out and clear my name.
"I don't know how this happened or who chose my name or why, but hopefully we'll find out soon." A picture of the suspect named as Melvyn Mildiner and released by police in Dubai had some similarities to the one on Mr Mildiner's Twitter page, but was clearly not the same person. "It's not me," he said. "Which is one silver lining on this entire story because at least I can point to it and say: 'Look, that's not me. It's not the picture that I have in my passport and it's not the picture that I have on my face that I walk around with every day'.
"I have my passport. It is in my house, along with the passports of everybody else in my family. There's no Dubai stamps in it because I've never been to Dubai." A work colleague of Susan Hodes, the mother of Stephen Daniel Hodes - one of the other six Britons named - said: "It's not her son. She has got a child called Stephen Daniel Hodes and she is in a complete tizz. Thankfully there was the picture which is not her son. Whether someone has stolen identity or whether there are two Stephen Daniel Hodes I don't know. She called in the office in a complete panic. It's just very uncomfortable for her."
Sources in London said the fact that the passports were false or had been obtained through identity theft would inevitably reinforce suspicions that the killing had been a Mossad operation. "They could have been mercenaries or they could have been agents of a foreign power," said a government source in London. "Several of the men seem to have come out of the same stable - for a start, they seem to have been to the same barber and the same optician.
He said that in previous instances, foreign agents had "travelled on genuine passports which were illegally obtained. In this case, sophisticated forgeries seem to have been involved, at least in some of the cases". He added: "If it were discovered that this was the work of a foreign power, rather than a criminal forger, it would have serious diplomatic implications." In 2004, the authorities in New Zealand revealed that Mossad had been securing its passports via the Israeli Embassy in Australia. Mossad agents have also been known to travel on illegally obtained, but genuine, Canadian passports.
The alleged ringleader of the plot entered Dubai on a French passport under the rather un-French name of Peter Elvinger. In Paris, the ministry of foreign affairs seemed to have been taken by surprise by the revelations in Dubai and said it could not yet make any comment. Speaking informally, French officials said it was still too early to say whether the suspect was genuinely French. Similarly, German authorities declined to comment on the 11th suspect, Michael Bodenheimer, who travelled on a German passport.
A spokeswoman for the BKA, the federal police, said: "The BKA is aware of the case. We are exchanging information with the Dubai police authority. This case is being led by the Dubai police." firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by David Crossland in Berlin, Colin Randall in Paris, and Zoi Constantine and Wafa Issa in Dubai