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Caught on CCTV, moment hotel assassins struck

This is the moment that assassins -- three of whom were carrying 'Irish' passports -- struck to kill a prominent Palestinian Hamas leader.

The violent death of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a luxury Dubai hotel was another chapter in the long and blood-soaked politics of the Middle East.

But last month's killing of the Palestinian militant provoked a furious international row yesterday, following the release of extraordinary CCTV images purporting to show the moments before the Hamas chief's mysterious assassination, and denials by London and Dublin that the alleged killers were British or Irish nationals.

Authorities in Dubai said on Monday that six of the assassins entered the United Arab Emirates for their secret mission on UK passports, while the remainder used Irish, French or German travel documents.

Identified

But last night the British government said it believed that six UK passports identified by officials in the Gulf state were "fraudulent". The three Irish passports were dismissed by officials in Dublin as forgeries.

As Israel declined to comment on speculation -- also by Hamas -- that the operation was carried out by the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, the British embassy in Tel Aviv announced that a UK investigation had been launched.

At least two British passport-holders living in Israel, who have the same names as those used by the alleged assassins, expressed alarm at the apparent appropriation of their identities by the assassins.

Paul Keeley told The Independent last night: "I don't know how my name could have come to be used, and that's a question I would like an answer to."

Video footage recorded at the five-star al-Bustan Rotana Hotel catches Mr Mabhouh (49) arriving alone. The four men who carried out the killing, disguised as sporting tourists, then move into place and trail him, even riding in the same lift as him to establish his room number -- 230. They return later and wait for their victim, who was suffocated, possibly following electrocution and torture.

The killers spent less than 19 hours in Dubai. They arrived on separate flights, paid the hotel in cash and took rooms as close as possible to Mr Mabhouh.

"Gail Folliard", the only woman, played a key part in the surveillance operation. In her passport photo she is blonde, but the CCTV film shows her wearing a dark wig as she watches him in the hotel lobby while pretending to make a telephone call.

Mossad has a long history of using foreign documents to carry out operations abroad. In 1997, an Israeli hit-squad used Canadian passports in a bungled assassination bid on a Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, in Jordan.

The UAE has requested international help in the murder inquiry. The emirate's police chief, Dahi Khalfan Tamim, did not directly accuse Mossad of culpability but declared: "Leaders of certain countries gave orders to their intelligence agents to carry out the killing."

Mr Mabhouh was wanted in Israel for involvement in the 1989 abduction and murders of two off-duty soldiers.

Officials in Tel Aviv claim he was in Dubai en route to Iran to obtain arms. But the bitter enmity between Hamas and its rival Palestinian faction Fatah may also have contributed to Mr Mabhouh's death. Two Palestinians have been arrested in Jordan in connection with the assassination.

Yesterday's British embassy statement is understood to have been issued on the grounds that the signatures and photographs did not correspond to any in passports issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The names of "Britons" cited by Dubai in the plot were Michael Lawrence Barney, James Leonard Clarke, Jonathan Louis Graham, Paul John Keeley and Stephen Daniel Hodes and Melvyn Adam Mildiner.

Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs said it had no record of any passports being issued under the names of Gail Folliard, Evan Dennings and Kevin Daveron. The French and German authorities said the passports of a "Peter Elvinger" and a "Michael Boenheimer" had also been forged.

Mr Keeley, a expat builder originally from the London borough of Havering, said he had been in "a daze" since hearing his name had cropped up in the Dubai case. "It's like being in a kind of daydream. I haven't been abroad for two years."

hnews@herald.ie


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