Germany Probing Identity of Passport-holder Tied to Dubai Killing

The document was used by one of the suspected assassins a day before the Hamas commander was eliminated.

German officials are examining the identity of Michael Bodenheimer, the name that appeared on a genuine German passport allegedly used in last month's assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. The authorities in the city of Cologne, where the passport was issued, began a probe, and federal authorities are now considering a move of their own.

According to German weekly Der Spiegel, Bodenheimer, an Israeli, applied for a German passport from the Cologne authorities. Bodenheimer presented documents that proved German lineage, including his grandparents' marriage certificate. He also showed his Israeli passport that was issued to him a year earlier in Tel Aviv.

The German passport was issued on June 18, 2009. That document was used by one of the assassination suspects in Dubai on January 19, a day before the killing.

According to Der Spiegel, Bodenheimer does not live in Cologne, as he had claimed in his application, and no other person by that name lives there. The magazine claims a man by that name lived in Herzliya until June last year.

Haaretz has learned that a Michael Bodenheimer lives in Bnei Brak. His wife told Haaretz in a telephone interview that "he has no German passport and he never asked for such a passport. He never visited Germany, except perhaps in transit on the way to the United States."

His wife added that the ultra-Orthodox family does not have any family in Herzliya and that even though Bodenheimer's grandparents were born in Germany, they emigrated to the United States, from where he immigrated to Israel 30 years ago.

"We are quiet people and are not used to so much attention," she told Haaretz yesterday. "The past week since the news of this story broke has been difficult for us. The fact that someone is using his name does not make him involved in this story."

Bodenheimer studies at a kollel, a yeshiva for married men. He has said he was astounded to see his name on the list of suspects, supposedly belonging to a German citizen.

"At first we didn't understand what everyone was talking about," Bodenheimer's daughter said. "The picture that was published doesn't look like him at all. He is always busy with Torah study," she said, adding that he holds no citizenship other than Israeli and American.

The German media have reported that the intelligence services of the country are certain that the Mossad was involved in the killing and that the foreign minister demanded that Israel explain why it used a German passport.

Israel's ambassador to Berlin, Yoram Ben-Ze'ev, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry, where he was asked about information that can shed light on the killing of Mabhouh.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said yesterday that he does not expect relations between Israel and European countries whose passports were used in the assassination to deteriorate as a result of the incident.

"I do not expect a crisis in relations because there is nothing linking Israel to the assassination. Britain, France and Germany are countries with shared interests with Israel in countering terrorism," Ayalon said, naming three of the four countries whose passports were used. At least three of the suspects used Irish passports.

Meanwhile, Hamas blamed Israel again yesterday for the hit. At a press conference, Salah al-Bardawil, one of the group's Gaza-based leaders, said he does not suspect that the Palestinian Authority was involved in the killing and that the entire affair was the responsibility of Mossad.

However, the Hamas official said that the two Palestinians arrested in Dubai in connection with the killing are former officers in the Palestinian security services and were employed in a firm owned by a senior member of rival Fatah.

The London-based newspaper Al-Hayat reported that this company is owned by Mohammed Dahlan, formerly a Fatah strongman in the Gaza Strip before its takeover by Hamas two and a half years ago.

Bardawil said that Mabhouh had put himself at risk by booking his trip through the Internet and risked a security breach by telling his family in Gaza by telephone which hotel he would be staying at.

Also yesterday, the daily newspaper Al-Bayan reported that Dubai police had new evidence implicating the Mossad in Mabhouh's assassination, which included credit-card payments and suspects' phone records.

"Dubai police have information confirming that the suspects purchased travel tickets from companies in other countries with credit cards carrying the same names we have publicized [from the passports]," Al-Bayan quoted Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim as saying.

Meanwhile, a Qatar news agency reported that Egyptian officials promised Dubai counterparts that they would try to persuade Israel to officially apologize for the assassination of Mabhouh in their country.

Egyptian diplomats told the newspaper Al-Arab that Dubai has asked Egypt to formally reprimand Israel for the hit.

Dubai police last week released photographs of 11 of the suspects. Interpol said on Thursday it had issued "red notices" for the suspects' arrest in any of its 188 member countries.

On Friday, Britain offered new passports to six British citizens living in Israel whose identities were used by the suspects. This would protect them from inadvertent arrest by Interpol.