x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

They came, they killed, and in hours they were gone

The death squad planned the killing with the precision of a military operation, but they left clues behind and were captured on video.

DUBAI // It was planned with the precision timing of a military operation. The death squad flew into Dubai and separated into five sections - four surveillance teams, and the execution squad who would actually carry out the assassination of Mahmoud al Mabhouh. Only 19 hours later, and perhaps as little as two hours after their murderous task was complete, the squad were boarding flights out of the city - and, they must have hoped, to safety.

But they left clues behind; they hired cars, they left fingerprints. And most damning of all, throughout their brief time in the city they were being watched by surveillance and CCTV cameras. And it was that dramatic footage that Lt General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the Dubai Police chief, released yesterday. The force issued the names and images of 11 European suspects - six British nationals, one French, one German and three Irish, including a woman, and also film showing their movements around the city on January 19, the day of the assassination.

"We have identified the suspects and will issue arrest warrants against them and will take legal action against anyone or any party which will prove to stand behind the murder," Gen Tamim said. "Currently we do not have clear evidence that a specific apparatus has carried out the act," he added. "We are dealing with the passports as original unless it is proven otherwise. We are asking for the co-operation of the respective countries."

Police said the suspects did not use any phones while in the UAE and instead used coded communication tools. The gang also did not use credit cards but conducted all transactions in cash. They also changed their appearance to avoid being caught. The police also displayed a comprehensive montage of CCTV footage capturing the movement of the suspects from the time they entered the country until they left. The footage is seen as one of the strongest pieces of evidence against the suspects.

The crime was carried out within 20 minutes of the victim entering his hotel room, though it is not clear how the killers gained entry. "The direct cause of death is suffocating, but we are also looking at other options," Gen Tamim said. Police said the killers took care to return everything in the room to its proper place and to remove any evidence of a struggle from al Mabhouh, seemingly to make the death appear natural. The suspects also locked the room from the inside as they left to make it appear that nobody had entered the room, according to police findings.

Police said the main suspect is Peter Elvinger, 49, who holds a French passport. He was the gang's logistical coordinator and the one who booked room 237 in Al Bustan Rotana, down the corridor from the victim's room - 230. The other suspects were identified as Irish nationals Gail Folliard, Kevin Daveron and Evan Dennings; British nationals Paul John Keely, Stephan Daniel Hodes, Melvyn Adam Mildiner, Jonathan Louis Graham, James Leonard Clarke and Michael Lawrence Barney. Also wanted is Michael Bodenheimer, a German national.

Two Palestinian nationals, who are UAE residents, are also currently being detained by Dubai Police in connection to al Mabhouh's murder. "One of them has confessed that he provided logistic help," said Gen Tamim. Gen Tamim said that although the arrest warrants would be issued for the suspects directly involved, the police were still looking into the involvement of a certain government in the killing.

"If the law of the jungle is the system for some countries, in the UAE it is rule of law that governs us, and if leaders of some countries give orders to their intelligence services to kill, this practice is rejected and is a crime in our laws, religion and Islamic traditions," he said. He added that the UAE would follow the proper legal procedures and work with Interpol to track down the perpetrators - "even if it's some countries' leaders".

Mr al Mabhouh, 50, was a founder of Hamas's military wing, the Ezzedeen al Qassam Brigades, and was wanted by the Israeli government in connection with the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in 1989. Hamas has accused Mossad of carrying out the assassination. The Israeli government has declined to comment on the claims. Last week, Gen Tamim had said that he did not out rule the involvement of Mossad, the Israeli secret service, claiming the execution method of resembled that of Mossad. He also warned that if Mossad was found to be responsible for the murder, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be on top of the wanted list and an arrest warrant would be issued against him.Yesterday, he said: "The UAE will not accept to be transformed into a ground for settling accounts [between fighting parties] regardless of the nature ... or the affiliations of those involved in these settlements."

He warned that anyone found to be "carrying out their struggles or revenge ... we will track them down." However, the UAE would continue to be an open country, he said. "Crime happens everywhere, but we will discover each and every crime," he said. wissa@thenational.ae