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Mossad-Backed 'European Hit Squad Killed Hamas Leader'

Six Britons in 11-strong group which assassinated commander, say Dubai police

Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem

Dubai's police chief Dhahi Khalfan Tamim (right) presents evidence to reporters yesterday about men wanted for killing Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, left. (Reuters)

An 11-member hit squad, composed mostly of UK passport holders, was responsible for the killing of a leader of the Hamas armed wing in a Dubai hotel room last month, the country's police chief told reporters yesterday.

Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim showed a news conference surveillance video of the alleged assassination team arriving on separate flights to Dubai the day before Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was found dead by staff at the Bustan Rotana hotel, AP reported from Dubai. He said that six members of the team carried British passports, three - including a woman - Irish passports, one - the head of the team - a French passport, and one a German passport. He said photos and other information were being sent to Interpol.

Hamas has blamed Israel for the killing of Mr Mabhouh, who was responsible for the capture and killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989 - slayings that shocked Israel and became part of the country's collective memory. More recently, Israel considered him a key figure in the procurement of Iranian weaponry for the Islamic group which rules the Gaza Strip. But the Israeli government has studiously avoided commenting on Mr Mabhouh's death.

Mr Tamim said he could not rule out Mossad involvement in the killing, but also said other countries may have been involved He said Mr Mabhouh died of suffocation, but that lab tests were still being carried out to determine other possible causes. At the time of his death, there were reports Mr Mabhouh was killed by electrocution.

Salah Bardawil, a Hamas leader in Gaza, last night called on Britain and the other countries whose passports the squad allegedly held to co-operate with the Dubai police "to reach the criminals and try them in their countries for this crime. Otherwise they will lose credibility as democratic countries respecting human rights.''

The Foreign Office last night declined to comment on the allegations.

Mr Tamim described a meticulously organised operation in which there was "serious penetration'' of Mr Mabhouh's security even before he arrived in Dubai. At least two suspected members of the team watched Mr Mabhouh check into his hotel and later booked a room across from the Hamas commander. The police chief added that the killers spent less than a day in the country and that they used disguises. He said they paid all their expenses in cash.

Mr Bardawil said, "Mossad is behind these people. It has the means to mobilise Israelis or Jews with [European] passports to carry this out." He added: "I don't think the Palestinians will be quiet about these Israeli crimes. I think they will respond in the appropriate time and place.''

After his death, Mr Mabhouh's relatives alleged that Israel had tried to kill him with poison several times previously, and once with explosives, and that they had tried to kidnap him.

Ron Ben-Yishai, an Israeli analyst who is considered close to the security establishment, said the findings from Dubai seemed to be authentic. "This looks like the operation of very professional and very well-trained people.''

Mr Tamim said Hamas had not notified the Dubai authorities that Mr Mabhouh would be visiting and wondered why he did not have a bodyguard.

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