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updated: 2/16/2010 5:58 AM

Dubai seeks global dragnet for Hamas slaying

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Dubai police appealed for an international manhunt Tuesday after releasing names and photos of an alleged 11-member hit squad accused of stalking and killing a Hamas commander last month in a plot that mixed cold precision with spy caper disguises such as fake beards and wigs.

Dubai authorities said they would seek assistance from the global police coordination agency Interpol and press individual nations to hunt down the suspects in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, whose body was found Jan. 20 in his luxury hotel room.

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Dubai's attorney general, Essam al-Hemaydan, said international arrest warrants have been issues for those accused of links to the slaying.

Police say the 10 men and one woman traveled to Dubai with European passports and killed al-Mabhouh less than 24 hours after their arrival.

Hamas has accused Israel's Mossad secret service of masterminding the slaying and has vowed revenge.

Dubai's police chief, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, did not directly implicate Israel at a news conference Monday to announce new details about al-Mabhouh's death. But he noted the possibility that "leaders of certain countries gave orders to their intelligence agents to kill" al-Mabhouh, one of the founders of Hamas' military wing.

At least two Palestinians have been taken into custody in Dubai for alleged links to the slaying, said Adnan Damiri, the police spokesman in the West Bank, citing sources familiar with the investigation.

Damiri said the Palestinian suspects were Hamas operatives. But Hamas claimed the suspects were linked to the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as part of alleged clandestine links with Israeli intelligence.

Dubai police did not immediately respond to requests for details on the reported Palestinian arrests.

Meanwhile, there was no comment from Dubai-based diplomats from the countries linked to passports carried by the alleged assassin cell: six with British, three Irish and one each from France and Germany.

Dubai police claimed that four members of the alleged cell -- three men identified as British and one Irish -- carried out the killing. Five others, including the woman, were used as spotters and in other planning roles, police said. The mastermind was a man identified as French.

The Consul General of France in Dubai, Nada Yafi, declined to comment on the case.

Tamim's news conference attempted to create a full narrative of the plot -- including surveillance video clips -- from the suspects' airport arrivals to their hasty departures before al-Mabhouh's body was found in Room 230 at the Al-Bustan Rotana Hotel near Dubai's international airport.

Tamim's account portrayed the suspects as operating with chilling efficiency -- arriving in Dubai at different times, checking into different hotels and tailing al-Mabhouh from the moment of his arrival in Dubai to when he entered his hotel room. Some of the suspects even rode in the same elevator as al-Mabhouh to verify his room number and later booked a room across the hall, Tamim said.

They paid for all expenses in cash and used different cell phone cards to avoid being traced, Tamim said.

In the surveillance footage, the female suspect appears to be wearing a wig and at times a big hat and sunglasses to blend in as a tourist. Others also were seen disguised as vacationers, wearing baseball caps or tennis outfits and carrying rackets. Tamim also said some suspects donned fake beards.

He said forensic tests indicated al-Mabhouh died of suffocation, but lab analyses were still under way to pinpoint other possible factors in his death. Hamas initially claimed al-Mabhouh was poisoned and electrocuted, but later a Hamas leader, Mohammed Nazzal, denied that poison was used.

The killing itself took just 10 minutes, Tamim said.

Four assassins later entered his room while he was out, using an electronic device to open the door, and waited for al-Mabhouh to return.

Tamim said they were careful not to disturb anything in the room and left the door locked from the inside to try to hide the fact that they had broken in.

The team then headed for the airport, some of them flying to Europe and others to Asia, he said. All were out of the United Arab Emirates within 19 hours of their arrivals.

He did not say whether any of the suspects have been formally charged by prosecutors in Dubai, one of seven semiautonomous emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. But local charges would be needed before the suspects could be added to the Interpol database or to begin any possible extradition efforts in the future.

A Hamas statement last month acknowledged al-Mabhouh was involved in the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989 and said he was still playing a "continuous role in supporting his brothers in the resistance inside the occupied homeland" at the time of his death.

Israeli officials have accused al-Mabhouh of helping smuggle rockets into the Gaza Strip, the coastal territory ruled by the militant group.

Top Hamas figures have denied reports that al-Mabhouh was en route to Iran, a major Hamas backer. But the group has not given clear reasons for his presence in Dubai.

Dubai police issued a document identifying the suspects and their nationalities. They are: Michael Lawrence Barney, James Leonard Clarke, Jonathan Louis Graham, Paul John Keeley, Stephen Daniel Hodes and Melvyn Adam Mildiner of Britain; Gail Folliard, Evan Dennings and Kevin Daveron of Ireland; Peter Elvinger of France and Michael Bodenheimer of Germany.

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