Two Palestinians held in Dubai over Hamas murder

A presenter points to video footage showing two of the 11 suspects involved in the recent killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas military commander, during a news conference in Dubai on February 15. (REUTERS)

Dubai police questioned two Palestinians on Tuesday in connection with the murder of a top Hamas leadert, after naming an 11-member hit team travelling on what are increasingly looking like fake European passports

The pair, both residents of the United Arab Emirates, had "fled to Jordan" after Mahmud al-Mabhuh was found dead in a Dubai hotel room last month, police chief Dahi Khalfan said.

They were extradited from Jordan "three days ago," Khalfan said, adding there was "strong suspicion" that one of the two had met a member of the suspected hit team before the assassination.

Khalfan announced on Monday that police were hunting six British passport holders, three with Irish passports, including a woman, and the holders of a German and a French passport, all of whom had managed to leave the UAE.

British, Irish and French officials on Tuesday said the passports were fake, while Israeli media reported that as many as six Israelis with dual British nationality were on the list.

"We are aware that the holders of six British passports have been named in this case. We believe the passports used were fraudulent and have begun our own investigation," a Foreign Office spokesman said in London.

In Dublin, a spokesman for the foreign affairs department said: "These purported passports are false. These are not genuine passports."

"We have run the passport numbers and names through our system and there are no passports in those names or with those numbers."

French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said that after checks had been carried out, "it turns out that this (French) passport is a fake."

In Israel, meanwhile, Channel Ten television reported that as many as six dual British-Israeli nationals and one Israeli-German national might have been the victims of identity theft.

Channel Two television spoke of only four dual nationals, saying only the photos had been changed.

One of them, Paul Kelly, told Channel Two: "I am in a state of shock. I am going to check with the British consulate to find out what is happening. That's my passport, but I haven't left Israel."

For his part, Paul Hod said: "I haven't left Israel in two years. I have never set foot in Dubai."

The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has accused Israel of killing Mabhuh, 50, and vowed revenge.

Its members have said Mabhuh, who was based in Damascus, was on a visit to Dubai to buy weapons for Hamas's armed wing of which he was a founder.

Khalfan said on Tuesday that it was most likely that information about Mabhuh was "leaked" from people close to him, adding that Mabhuh booked his hotel room just a day before his arrival on January 19.

Palestinian Authority police spokesman, General Adnan al-Dameeri, said in Ramallah that Palestinian security authorities "confirmed information that two Hamas officers ... were involved in the killing of Mabhuh."

On Monday Hamas official Ayman Taha told Al-Arabiya television that the pair, who were arrested in Jordan and handed over to Dubai, worked for the Palestinian Authority and took part in Mabhuh's assassination.

On Tuesday Taha told Al-Arabiya Hamas "did not want to accuse anyone" apart from Israel.

The Dubai prosecutor issued an "international arrest warrant" on Tuesday against the 11 members of the alleged hit team, according to a statement.

International police organisation Interpol said it had not yet received any request from Dubai to hunt down 11.

On Monday Khalfan revealed details about Mabhuh's murder and said the militant entered the UAE using a passport that did not bear the same family name.

Mabhuh was tracked by his killers who had booked a hotel room across the hall from his and then they tried to force open his door, he said. It was unclear if they broke in or if he let them in.

"He was strangled after receiving maybe an electric shock," the police chief said, denying media reports that Mabhuh had come to Dubai to buy arms from Iran.

Mabhuh's killers left Dubai within hours after the murder, having spent only 24 hours in Dubai and used no weapons, credit cards or local phone lines during their stay, Khalfan said.

He also showed reporters surveillance camera footage of the alleged killers arriving and departing and their movements in the hotel.

Several Hamas leaders have died over the years in what Israel calls "targeted killings", including Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin who was killed in 2004 in an Israeli helicopter gunship attack in Gaza.

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