Government knew weeks ago about fake documents
Department confirms two more Irish passports were used in Dubai killing
The first three said that they had not lost their passports or had them stolen
THE Government has admitted it knew two weeks ago about concerns over 'fake' Irish passports used in a Middle Eastern assassination.
But it has denied claims by Dubai's chief of police that Irish officials were first contacted on the issue last month.
Serious questions are now being raised about how quickly the Irish authorities has reacted after the alarm was initially raised.
The murky story took a further twist last night when the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that another two Irish passports had been implicated in the operation to kill a top Hamas commander, bringing the total number to five.
Until yesterday officials and gardai had been investigating the use of three Irish passports by a suspected 11-member Israeli hitsquad operating in Dubai last month.
But the number of suspects is now believed to stand at 18, and five of them are now thought to have travelled on Irish passports containing genuine numbers but with names, photographs and signatures altered.
The first three Irish passport holders affected have already been contacted by the department. All three said that they had not lost their passports or had them stolen. At least one said that he had never even flown to the Middle East.
Yesterday, Israel's ambassador to Ireland Dr Zion Evrony was summoned to a meeting at the Department of Foreign Affairs, but he said he "knew nothing" about the events in Dubai.
It is not known whether the latest revelations will result in a further meeting between Irish officials and Dr Evrony. But it further brings into question the handling of the situation by officials here and in Dubai.
Government officials had earlier denied claims by Dubai's chief of police that it was first contacted on the issue last month after Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed in his hotel on January 20.
Dubai's chief of police Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim has said he contacted consulates and embassies for assistance with his investigation into the suspects at the end of January.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) denied that Irish officials had been contacted that early.
"They did not contact the Irish embassy (in Abu Dhabi)," he said.
"When we saw those media reports (on the incident) on the 4th, our embassy in Abu Dhabi made contact with the foreign ministry there.
"We were in contact with the UAE authorities and have been in contact with them on a daily basis since."
That first contact was made two weeks ago, but it was not until Wednesday of this week that the DFA started tracing the genuine owners of three passport numbers used by the alleged killers.
As recently as Tuesday, the department was insisting the documents were obviously fraudulent because they did not contain enough numbers.
However, on Wednesday -- shortly after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had insisted on a "full inquiry" into how the British passports were used -- Minister Micheal Martin admitted the numbers were, in fact, genuine and the three passport holders were tracked down on Wednesday and yesterday.
Fine Gael's Billy Timmons has claimed that the DFA only became interested in the problem when Mr Brown called for an investigation.
It is understood that two of the first three passport holders had been due to fly out of Ireland this weekend, at a time when their passport numbers would have been a priority on the Interpol 'red notices' monitoring system.
Mr Martin said yesterday that the pair would likely have been arrested when they attempted to use their passports.
"It is an extremely serious incident and event and puts the security of Irish citizens at risk, there is no question of that," he said.
Gardai also tracked down the third person yesterday evening after he had changed address. His number had been stolen from an expired Irish passport.
And last night, the department was again trying to track down the owners of the latest two Irish passports to become involved.
A spokesman confirmed that these two fake passports again had genuine numbers but false names, photographs and signatures -- like the initial three.
The rest of the initial 11-strong team had travelled on fake UK, German and French passports which used the names and numbers of real people, but with altered photographs and signatures.
Earlier, after a one-hour meeting at Iveagh House Dr Evrony said he was under no obligation to address the international incident in public.
"I was invited to a meeting with the Secretary General (David) Cooney.
"I told him I don't know anything about the event -- beyond that it is not customary to share the content of diplomatic meetings," he said.
Mr Martin said he believed that the numbers had been stolen randomly. He said it was too early to discuss possible sanctions if Israel admits responsibility. He confirmed that he had also discussed the incident with the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband.
Mr Miliband yesterday demanded full co-operation from Israel after calling in the country's ambassador to discuss the situation.
"Any interference with British passports is an outrage," Mr Miliband said in an interview on BBC Radio.
He said he would hold talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Brussels on February 22.