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Page last updated at 23:40 GMT, Sunday, 28 March 2010 00:40 UK

Dubai's starring role in Israeli-linked murder plot

Screen shot of CCTV footage showing Mahmoud al-Mabhouh exits the lift, followed by suspected members of the hit team
Dubai's extensive CCTV allowed police to track the movements of the assassins

By Jane Corbin
BBC Panorama, Dubai

It is one of the most glamorous places in the world, complete with the tallest skyscrapers and the glitziest hotels. But now Dubai is perhaps most famous for its starring role in a murder mystery that could have been lifted from the pages of a spy novel.

The twist in the plot is that it was all captured by the surveillance cameras (CCTV) that are everywhere in the emirate.

Over an eight-month period, 27 people made their way to and from Dubai from nine different countries as they plotted the death of one man, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

The senior official of Hamas, the militant Palestinian organisation and sworn enemy of Israel, was killed on 19 January.

I followed in the footsteps of his assassins across Dubai's glittering landscape - to the shopping malls and car parks they met in and the five star hotels where they stayed.

And ultimately to the second floor corridor of the hotel where al-Mabhouh was murdered in room 230.

Israeli link

Twelve of the assassins carried British passports in the names of individuals living in Israel. The other forged passports used were from France, Germany, Ireland and Australia.

A common link to Israel among the forged passports is what made the Dubai police 99% certain from the start that Israel was behind the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

I don't care who killed al-Mabhouh - I just want to thank them from the bottom of my heart
Mazal Huta, sister of murdered Israeli solder

The day the murder plot unfolded the hit squad's coordinator, a blond woman posing as Gail Folliard and travelling on an Irish passport, was caught on CCTV checking into a glitzy hotel.

I stayed in one of the sleek rooms there - just along from Gail's and saw a copy of her bill. She had ordered a snack from room service in the early hours of the morning as she waited for the killing to take place.

From the casual way she was captured behaving by the hotel cameras, you might think she had no inkling she was being filmed but you would be wrong.

Gail was fully aware of the cameras as she used the toilets in another hotel to change into different clothes and a dark wig.

The disguises were designed to throw anyone watching off the scent, but the assassins underestimated the ability of the Dubai police to piece together those thousands of images in the days after the murder and uncover the plot.

Lucky breaks

At 1525 on the afternoon of the murder, the action shifted to another hotel - the al-Bustan Rotana Hotel near the airport.

Top row, from left: The suspects named as James Leonard Clarke, Jonathan Louis Graham, Paul John Keeley. Bottom row, from left: Those named as Michael Lawrence Barney, Melvyn Adam Mildiner, Stephen Daniel Hodes
Six of the 12 British passports used by the hit team

That is when Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, alleged by the Israelis to be an arms dealer procuring rockets for Hamas to fire into Israel from Gaza, checked in to room 230.

Over the next few hours, 13 members of the hit squad would pass through its large marble floored lobby with an ornate globe in a fountain.

As al-Mabhouh was shown to his room, two men dressed as tennis players followed him into the lift to find out his room number. It was on the second floor and, luckily for them, more private than many other rooms which face an open mezzanine area.

One of the rather unathletic looking tennis players was caught on the hotel's CCTV using a device to convey al-Mabhouhs' room number to the team.

The hit team never communicated with each other directly but through a central hub somewhere abroad.

A member of the team then booked the room directly opposite al-Mabhouh's - number 270.

In another lucky break for his killers - it was available.

Gail, a four-man execution squad carrying bags and another co-ordinator would gather in room 270 to wait for their target while three different surveillance teams patrolled the lobby.

Busy corridors

Staying in an identical room to al-Mabdouh I noted the neutral executive style décor - and the electronic lock system on the door.

Interestingly, I found there was almost constant traffic outside - maids, porters and other guests coming and going.

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh
Hamas alerted Dubai police to their suspicions immediately

While it would have been risky to be spotted acting suspiciously in that corridor, hotel records show that at 8pm that night someone tampered with room 230's electronic key system.

It is thought some of the execution squad got into the room and lay in wait for their target.

At 2030 al-Mabhouh returned to his room - within 15 minutes he was dead.

But his killers had made a crucial error.

They injected him with a muscle relaxant which would have eventually paralysed his muscles and stopped his breathing.

But it appears they panicked - or were impatient - and, afraid of being caught, smothered him with a pillow.

The smothering left tell tale signs picked up in the autopsy and led to the discovery of traces of the drug in his blood and a tiny needle pinprick on his leg.

But by that time the killers had long since gone and were far away in a safe place. The Dubai police say that place was Israel.

Betrayed

From the pristine boulevards of Dubai I travelled to the blitzed out wasteland and crumbling concrete of Gaza to find out more about al-Mabhouh.

Hamas leader on Dubai killing

In a refugee camp I met his family as they mourned the death of a man they see as a resistance leader and martyr.

"We were expecting news of his death to be honest," his father, Abdel Raouf al-Mabhouh said, sounding resigned to his son's fate.

"The Israelis have been after him for years."

But if Israel was responsible, it is likely they did not act alone.

The bitter rivalry between the Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, may have led to al-Mabhouh being betrayed by his own side.

CCTV from the Dubai airport shows an Arab man meeting one of the hit squad shortly before al-Mabhouh arrived and Dubai police are holding two Palestinians with links to Fatah in custody.

They even suspect that the dead man's movements may also have been betrayed by someone inside his own organisation, Hamas.

"Arab dogs betrayed him," al-Mabhouh's mother, Fatema, told me darkly. "And the Mossad finished him off."

Soldier killed

The Israeli city of Ashkelon, only a few miles away from Gaza, is home to the Saadon family whose lives were ruined by al-Mabhouh two decades ago when he killed a young Israeli soldier hiking home for the weekend.

Ilin Saadon Street
The road where soldier Ilan Saadon lived now bears his name

In an interview last year on al-Jazeera television al-Mabhouh boasted about how he killed Ilan Saadon and buried him.

His family would not find out where his body was for seven years.

"We have suffered and suffered and suffered for 21 years," his sister Mazal Huta told me. "I don't care who killed al-Mabhouh - I just want to thank them from the bottom of my heart."

The killers made another key mistake - they used passports of five western nations thinking they would never be exposed.

While Israel still will not confirm or deny that it was responsible, on the streets of Tel Aviv, Israelis told me they were proud of the Mossad.

Lookalikes for the hit squad, Gail, the tennis players and others were the stars of a popular comedy show on television.

The assassination happened around the time of an Israeli public holiday that involves fancy dress. This year, wigs, tennis kit and Mossad t-shirts flew off the shelves.

'Clear terrorism'

This comes despite the continuing diplomatic row over the false passports and the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat from the embassy in London.

In Damascus, the leader of Hamas, Khaled Mishal, gave Panorama his first interview about the killing of his top lieutenant.

He said the action taken by the British government, while welcome, did not go far enough.

"The reaction of western countries is not proportionate to the crime...and I'm warning now that the west shouldn't take this crime lightly," he said, adding that if Israel is brazen enough to commit a murder such as this, then other countries and their citizens could also find themselves targeted.

He personally knows the risk, as Mishal was himself the victim of a failed Mossad assassination plot in 1997.

"This is a crime against humanity, morality and international law," said Mr Mishal, labelling the murder an act of "clear Israeli terrorism".

Hamas killing

Police in Dubai have released images of 27 people they believe are behind the killing of a senior Hamas commander. The suspects are accused of using fake passports bearing their own pictures, but the names of innocent citizens.
Twelve of the passports used were British (shown on previous slide). The other 15 on the list are reported to have used stolen identities from Australian, French, Irish and German citizens.
The 27th suspect used the alias Joshua Aaron Krycer - a stolen Australian identity (pictured left). Police say the suspects used their fake documents to travel to Dubai in groups, flying from Zurich, Rome, Paris and Frankfurt.
One of the victims of the identity theft was British-Israeli Paul John Keeley (pictured right). The passport used by one of the suspected assassins bore his name, but featured a photograph of another man (pictured left).
Palestinian militant Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed in his hotel room in Dubai on 20 January. Police claim one of the suspects, pictured on the left, went to a hotel to put on a disguise. He is seen leaving a toilet wearing a wig.
Surveillance cameras also recorded Mr Mabhouh, circled in red above, at the hotel's reception before his death. At the bottom of the image the head of one of the suspects can be seen. As Mr Mabhouh leaves, the suspect follows.
Mr Mabhouh is trailed into the lift by a number of the suspects, including two pictured here in tennis gear. Investigators believe he had been followed from Syria to Dubai where it is thought he wanted to buy weapons for Hamas.
When Mr Mabhouh leaves the lift, police say two of the suspects can be seen following him down the corridor. He was later found dead in his room. A post-mortem report said he had been electrocuted and suffocated.
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Panorama: Passports to Kill, BBC One, Monday, 29 March at 2030BST and then, for UK audiences only, on the BBC iPlayer.



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