DUBAI // The Dubai Police chief says a major suspect in the killing of Mahmoud al Mabhouh was arrested in a western country about two months ago – but authorities in that country asked that nothing be made public.
“The suspect who was arrested played a key role in the killing, but we were informed by the ambassador during a meeting that they did not wish to release the information,” Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, who declined to give any further details on the identity of the suspect, said yesterday.
Al Mabhouh, 50, a Hamas commander, was suffocated on January 19 in his hotel room at the Al Bustan Rotana in Dubai. His killers left the Emirates that day, before the murder was discovered.
The country that arrested the suspect two months ago is not believed to be European.
Lt Gen Tamim said investigators in that country need to be more forthcoming with information about what they have found.
“I do not have an explanation for why they do not want to make it public, but there is a need for more transparency in this case. Why is it that every time an Israeli is involved in a crime, everyone goes mute?” Lt Gen Tamim asked.
“We want anyone who is dealing with this case to deal with it as security case, and not to pay attention to any other consideration,” he added.
It is not clear whether the western nation is still holding the suspect.
After the killing, Dubai Police released CCTV footage of the suspects and copies of their passports. The video images showed a number of people dressed in sports clothing trailing al Mahbouh as he exited the hotel's lift.
The footage made headlines around the world and became synonymous with the assassination.
Fingerprints and DNA evidence were provided to Interpol, which issued “red notice” arrest warrants against the suspects. The wanted list has so far reached 35 people.
Shortly after the investigation began, Dubai Police pointed the finger at Mossad, the Israeli spy agency.
Later, Lt Gen Tamim said he was certain they stood behind the killing. The misuse of European and Australian passports also seemed to indicate Mossad's handiwork.
In August, German authorities revealed they had arrested a suspect after extraditing him from Poland. He was released days later and officials were forced to deny any political motivation behind the move.
Uri Brodsky, a suspected Mossad agent, was accused of helping to obtain a German passport for one of the suspected assassins. Justice authorities wanted to charge him with working for a foreign intelligence service and fraudulently obtaining documents. However, the Warsaw court stipulated he could face charges on the latter only if he was to be extradited from Poland. This carried a fine rather than jail time.
Lt Gen Tamim cited the most recent arrest as a clear indication that the case “is far from stalled, and that the investigation is still ongoing at many levels”.
A Wall Street Journal report published yesterday said investigators might be back at square one after information on the identity of Christopher Lockwood, 62, one of the few suspects who used a genuine passport, fizzled out.
The article said Lockwood had changed his name from Yehuda Lustig in 1994. Lustig was a young Israeli solider with dual citizenship who was believed to have died in the 1973 war between the Arabs and Israel.
However, Lt Gen Tamim insisted that the case is not confined to finding one person as police have strong evidence on all the suspects and know what they look like.
Since the assassination, a number of countries have tightened the security of their official documents, with some implementing anti-forgery features in passports. The UK announced in August it would introduce additional holograms, complex artwork and “physical security measures” to make it more difficult to produce fakes. Fourteen of the individuals implicated in the murder used fake British travel documents.
Israel also faced condemnation from the countries indicated in the killing. An Israeli diplomat was expelled from Ireland in June, and the country later moved to block a plan to share the personal data of 500 million European Union citizens.
The scheme, which would have allowed the exchange of data for commercial reasons, was agreed after Israel’s policies and practices to protect data were deemed sufficient to meet EU standards. Ireland’s minister of justice Dermot Ahern intervened to block the authorisation procedure.