Israelis listed as suspects in Hamas man's slaying

JERUSALEM Tue Feb 16, 2010 4:24pm EST

An image courtesy of Dubai police shows the eleven people suspected of killing Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a luxury hotel in the Gulf emirate last month. REUTERS/Dubai Police/Handout

An image courtesy of Dubai police shows the eleven people suspected of killing Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a luxury hotel in the Gulf emirate last month.

Credit: Reuters/Dubai Police/Handout

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Foreign-born Israelis named as part of an Israeli hit squad denied Tuesday any involvement in the assassination of a top Hamas militant in Dubai and said their identities had been hijacked.

Seven of 11 suspects named by Dubai in the slaying of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh last month were said to live in Israel, suggesting the Mossad had committed a major blunder, if it turned out that Israel was indeed involved in the attack.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas has blamed Israel for the assassination that took place in a luxury hotel in the Gulf emirate, and Dubai police have said they could not rule out Israeli involvement. Israel has declined to comment.

One of the suspects, reached by Reuters on the telephone, denied any involvement in the killing, calling himself the victim of an identity theft.

"I am obviously angry, upset and scared," Melvyn Adam Mildiner, a British immigrant to Israel, said in British-accented English.

Mildiner of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, said he had nothing to do with the assassination and had never been to Dubai.

"I don't know how this happened or who chose my name or why, but hopefully we'll find out soon," said Mildiner, a technical writer after Israeli newspapers splashed names and photos of the suspects distributed in Dubai.

"I have my passport. It is in my house, along with the passports of everybody else in my family, and there's no Dubai stamps in it because I've never been to Dubai," Mildiner said.

Three other men on Dubai's list offered similar accounts to Israeli television stations and Web sites. Most shared a profile of having immigrated to Israel from English-speaking countries and had dual national identities.

"I don't know what to say. It's a mistaken or stolen identity, it's not me, that's for sure," Michael Lawrence Barney said in a televised interview in which his face wasn't shown.

Stephen Hodes, another recent immigrant to the Jewish state, said: "I am in total shock. I don't know how they reached me. The photographs are not of me, of course...I'm mortified."

FAKE OR STOLEN IDENTITIES?

Dubai said it issued international arrest warrants for all suspects, who also include German and French passport holders. A government source said six other people, not yet identified, were also believed to be involved.

As the mystery over suspects' identities deepened, Britain and Ireland said they believed British and Irish passports which Dubai alleged were used by members of the hit squad -- whose photographs were released by the emirate -- were fake.

"This was a case of identity theft and it puts the operation in Dubai in a very amateur light. If the intent was to hide the perpetrators' identities, why direct a finger at Israelis?," Channel 10 television's security reporter, Alon Ben-David, said.

A security source in Israel said the target, Mabhouh, played a key role in smuggling Iranian-funded arms to Islamist militants in the Gaza Strip. Hamas confirmed the information.

Hit squads dispatched by Israel's Mossad spy agency have used foreign passports in the past, notably in 1997 when agents entered Jordan on Canadian passports and bungled an attempt to kill Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal with poison.

Mossad is widely believed to have stepped up covert missions against Hamas, Lebanon's Hezbollah militia and Iran's nuclear project. Among killings attributed to Mossad were that of Hezbollah commander Imad Moughniyeh in Damascus two years ago.

In the most recent publicized case linking the Mossad to foreign identity papers, two suspected Israeli agents were jailed in New Zealand in 2005 for obtaining that country's passports illegally.

In 1987, Britain protested to Israel about what London called the misuse by Israeli authorities of forged British passports and said it received assurances steps had been taken to prevent future occurrences.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Sophie Taylor in Paris; Estelle Shirbon in London; Andras Gergely in Dublin; Sabine Siebold in Berlin; Cynthia Johnston and Firouz Sedarat and Tamara Walid)

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