Who Killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh? / Many Wanted Hamas Man Dead

The circumstances of the assassination of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on January 20 are still unclear. It is not known who killed him or how. However, a preliminary investigation by Hamas has revealed several details that shed light on his activities and on the probable time of his assassination.

Haaretz has obtained some of these details; however, the mystery is far from solved. Even the first suspicion of Mabhouh's relatives and Hamas - that the Mossad had taken out the man responsible for weapons-smuggling to Gaza - has been replaced by suspicions that an Arab intelligence organization may have been responsible for his death.

Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan told Arab journalists Sunday that he was not ruling out the possibility that the Mossad had killed Mabhouh, but neither was he ruling out other suspects.

Unofficially, Hamas has conceded that quite a few parties had an interest in taking out Mabhouh, who had become central to the Iran-Gaza Strip axis.

Room 130

On January 19, at around 9 A.M., the 50-year-old Mabhouh boarded Emirates flight EK 912 in Damascus, bound for Dubai, where he landed at 2:30 P.M. The local authorities were unaware of his arrival, because he entered the emirate under an assumed identity.

Mabhouh apparently reached his nearby hotel, the al-Bustan Rotana, by taxi. Also using a false identity, he checked into room 130, on the first floor of the 275-room hotel. He had asked for a room with no balcony and sealed windows, so no one could enter. He deposited a case with documents in the hotel safe. He spent about an hour in his room, where he showered and changed clothes.

At around 4:30 or 5 P.M. he left the hotel. Hamas, which certainly knows who Mabhouh met, has not released this information.

He apparently had dinner outside the hotel, as the hotel has no record of a meal or drinks in any of its restaurants.

During these critical hours, Mabhouh apparently was being tailed. He is believed to have returned to his room at around 9 P.M. Khalfan says he believes Mabhouh opened his door and let in his assailants, since there were no signs of forced entry. However, Hamas says the assassins were waiting for him in the room, and were informed by his tails that Mabhouh was on his way up.

At 9:30 P.M., Mabhouh's wife called his mobile phone. There was no answer, and Hamas believes that by this time he was already dead.

The body

After Mabhouh's body was discovered the next morning, January 20, it was taken for examination. Burns from a stun gun were found under his ear, in his groin and on his chest. Pathologists discovered his nose bled before death; blood was found on a pillow they believe was placed over his nose and mouth to suffocate him.

On Sunday, Khalfan met with the Palestinian consul in Dubai, Hussein Abdul Khaliq, to convey the preliminary findings of the investigation. He told the consul that he believed seven people had taken part in the assassination, and that the identity of four were already known to investigators, including names and pictures.

The Dubai police have also turned to Interpol for assistance, since one of the alleged perpetrators has a European passport.

A Hamas source yesterday told Haaretz that Mabhouh had been imprisoned in Egypt for almost a year in 2003, and that he was wanted not only by the Israelis, but also by the Jordanians and the Egyptians and did not lack enemies.