Al Mabhouh killed hours after arrival

Police say the Hamas official Mahmoud al Mabhouh was murdered within five hours of arriving in Dubai.

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DUBAI // Mahmoud al Mabhouh was murdered within five hours of arriving in the country, the Dubai Police chief said yesterday. Initial forensic reports indicate that al Mabhouh, a senior Hamas leader who was found dead in his hotel room on January 20, was paralysed with an electric shock before being suffocated, said Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim.

Other potential causes of death, including poison, are also being examined, said Gen Tamim, who added that the final forensic report would be released in about a month. Al Mabhouh entered the country at 3.15pm on January 19 and was dead before 9pm, he said. His killers had been in the country less than 24 hours before the killing and left before his body was discovered the next day in his hotel, the Al Bustan Rotana in Al Garhoud, police have previously said.

Al Mabhouh used his real passport to enter the UAE, according to Hamas, even though he owned several others with aliases. He was in the country for several days of official Hamas business; the Palestinian militant group declined to be more specific about the purpose of his visit. Hamas also said al Mabhouh was travelling without his usual contingent of bodyguards, who were due to arrive later on January 19, according to Talal Nasser, a Hamas spokesman.

Police would not say how many suspects they had identified, but indicated they believed the perpetrators arrived in the country using passports from western European countries. The authenticity of the documents has not been confirmed. "Most likely the passports are authentic, as they had passed through several European countries, and if they were fake they would have been discovered," Gen Tamim said.

Al Mabhouh, 50, was a founder of Hamas's military wing, the Ezzedeen al Qassam Brigades. He was wanted by the Israeli government in connection with the kidnappings of two Israeli soldiers in 1989. Hamas has accused the Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, of carrying out the assassination. The Israeli government has declined to comment on the claims. An Israeli defence official told the Associated Press yesterday that al Mabhouh played "a central role in smuggling weapons from Iran to Gaza militants".

The involvement of the Mossad has not been ruled out by Dubai Police, although officials said on Saturday that currently they were only investigating individuals. "It is only logical to expect [Mossad] to stand behind the murder, but we are not sure that they have carried out the crime," Gen Tamim said. Dubai Police are working closely with Interpol and other countries to track down the suspects, he added. He declined to disclose any further details of the investigation.

Police have said they would not co-operate with Hamas on the investigation, and would deal only with the Palestinian Authority, which governs most of the Palestinian Territories. Yesterday, Gen Tamim met with Hussein Abdul Khaleq, the Palestinian consul general in Dubai, to discuss the latest developments. Mr Khaleq could not be reached for comment. "We are working day and night to pursue the perpetrators," Gen Tamim told the consul general, according to a Dubai Police statement.

Khairi al Oraidi, the Palestinian ambassador, said yesterday that the embassy was waiting for the results of the investigation. It was also serving as a liaison between the UAE and the Palestinian Authority, which is based in Ramallah, in the West Bank. "Because [al Mabhouh] is a Palestinian national and was in the UAE, the embassy is authorised to follow up on his case," Mr al Oraidi said. "We have confidence in the UAE authorities and are sure the investigation will find the truth and we are ready to co-ordinate and support them with whatever they ask us." * With additional reporting by Zoi Constantine