Alleged Assassins Caught on Dubai Surveillance Tape

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Dubai authorities have released extensive footage from surveillance cameras that allegedly shows the movements of a professional 11-person assassination team in the hours before and after a top Hamas leader was killed last month in a hotel room.

The footage, taken from cameras at the Dubai airport and several luxury hotels, follows the activities of 10 men and one woman as they arrived in Dubai on various European passports and moved among hotels and a shopping center, changing into disguises at one point, during the hours before Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed.

Al-Mabhouh, 48, was a founder of Hamas’ military wing. He was believed to be behind the abduction of two Israeli soldiers in 1989 and said to be a liaison for smuggling weapons from Iran to Gaza. He had survived several assassination attempts.

He was found dead in room 230 at the Al-Bustan Rotana hotel on January 20. The door on al-Mabhouh’s room was latched and chained from the inside, and there was no blood evidence. An initial report indicated that he died from sudden high blood pressure in the brain. Subsequent reports have suggested he was electrocuted or strangled.

An investigation into hotel records and surveillance tapes uncovered the suspicious activities of a group of Westerners, most of them wearing baseball caps. They staked out al-Mabhouh’s room on the hotel’s second floor, met clandestinely in various locations, disguised themselves and left the hotel briskly after the deed was done. Investigators believe the assassins may have reprogrammed the electronic lock on al-Mabhouh’s door to gain entry.

Hamas has accused the Mossad, Israel’s secretive intelligence service, of masterminding the assassination.

In the 27-minute video, released by Gulf News TV, some of the suspected assassins arrive on separate flights to Dubai early the morning the murder took place. The footage shows some of them meeting up briefly in a shopping mall and checking into and out of hotels during the setup stage. One of the suspects, a bald male, enters a hotel and exits wearing a brown wig and glasses. Later, a woman identified as an Irish national named Gail Folliard, is shown checking into her hotel wearing glasses and a ponytail, then entering the same location where the male suspect changed his appearance. She exits that location wearing a brunette wig.

When al-Mabhouh arrives at his hotel around 3 p.m. on the 19th, the footage captures two of the suspects, dressed in tennis gear, getting into the same elevator with him to follow him to his hotel room. The two suspects later checked into the room across the hall from him, according to Dubai police.

Around 8 p.m., the cameras catch some of the team members in the elevator lobby of al-Mabhouh’s floor while he is out of the hotel for a bit. While they’re standing there keeping watch, another team is apparently trying to gain entry to the victim’s room. During this time, a tourist steps off the elevator, putting the operation in jeopardy, until one of the team members distracts the tourist. A note on the video indicates that, according to the hotel’s computer logs, someone tried to reprogram al-Mabhouh’s electronic door lock during this time.

Al-Mabhouh returned to the hotel around 8:25 p.m and passed the female suspect, Folliard, in the hallway on the way to his room. The killing itself took only 10 minutes around 8:30 p.m., Dubai Police Chief Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim told the Israeli newspaper Ha’Aretz. Four assassins allegedly entered the victim’s hotel room while he was out, using an electronic device to unlock his door, and waited for him to return. Hotel staff discovered his body around 1:30 p.m. on the 20th after failing to reach him on the phone. By then, he’d been dead about 17 hours, and the alleged assassins were long gone.

Oddly, although there is surveillance tape showing the closed doors of some of the rooms near al-Mahbouh’s hotel room when he first checked in, there is no tape showing the assassins entering or leaving the room or walking down that hallway at the time of the assassination. A map of the hotel shown in the video, indicates that the only surveillance camera in that hallway was located one door down from the victim’s room and pointed away from his door toward what appears to be a stairwell.

Following the assassination, the suspects left the hotel quickly and were tracked scattering to different parts of the globe, including Hong Kong, France, Switzerland, Germany and South Africa.

Authorities say the suspects paid for everything in cash and used special communication devices to avoid surveillance. They never made direct calls to one another, as far as authorities could determine. They did, however, make a number of calls to Austria, which authorities believe may have been the location of their command-and-control center.

Within 24 hours after the murder, Dubai investigators reportedly identified the aliases the alleged assassins used on their forged passports. The nationalities on the documents indicated that six of them are British, three are Irish, one is French and one is German. Although the videos show a second woman identified as part of the surveillance team, only one woman — Folliard — is listed among the suspects.

British, Irish and French authorities have indicated that the passports used by the alleged assassins showed obvious signs of forgery. The Irish passport numbers used by suspects Gail Folliard, Evan Dennings and Kevin Daveron, for example, contain no letters and have the wrong number of digits.

At least five Israelis share the same names used by the alleged assassins. One of the names matches a man living near Jerusalem named Melvyn Adam Mildiner. Mildiner, a British national, says his identity was stolen and that he had nothing to do with the assassination. The picture of him that was released by Dubai authorities does not completely match him, Reuters reports.

“I woke up this morning to a world of fun,” he told Reuters after Israeli newspapers published the names and photos of the suspects identified by Dubai authorities. “I am obviously angry, upset and scared — any number of things. And I’m looking into what I can do to try to sort things out and clear my name. I don’t know how this happened or who chose my name or why, but hopefully we’ll find out soon.”

The Mossad is noted for its stealth assassinations. The intelligence service was responsible for tracking down and killing Palestinian militants who murdered Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, as depicted in the Steven Spielberg movie Munich.

The Mossad was also responsible in 1986 for capturing Mordechai Vanunu, a worker at Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant who had planned to disclose information about Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program to the Sunday Times newspaper in the United Kingdom. A female Mossad agent posing as a tourist in the UK lured the shy Vanunu out of London to Rome, where he was drugged and kidnapped and returned to Israel for a secret trial. He spent 18 years in prison and was released in 2004.

Hat tip: New York Times Lede blog

Two Murdered Women

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Walid El Hourican

* Neda and Marwa: One becomes an icon, the other is unmentioned

2009-07-17T180457Z_01_BER104_RTRMDNP_3_GERMANY

A girl holds a picture of murdered Marwa El-Sherbiny during a memorial in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin July 17, 2009.

REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

On June 20th 2009, Neda Agha Soltan was shot dead during the post-election protests in Iran. The protests occupied the largest news segments around the world, with analysts and commentators predicting the fall of the Iranian regime and the dawn of freedom breaking in “the axis of evil.”

Neda’s death became an icon of the Iranian opposition and a symbol for millions of people of the injustice of the Iranian regime and the defiance of the protesters. Neda’s death was put in context. It was taken from the personal realm of the death of an individual to the public realm of the just cause of a whole society.

On July 1st Marwa El Sherbini, an Egyptian researcher living in Germany, was stabbed to death 18 times inside a courtroom in the city of Dresden, in front of her 3-year-old son. She had won a verdict against a German man of Russian descent who had verbally assaulted her because of her veil. Her husband, who rushed in to save her when she was attacked in the courtroom, was shot by the police. Marwa’s death was not reported by any Western news media until protests in Egypt erupted after her burial. The reporting that followed focused on the protests; the murder was presented as the act of a “lone wolf,” thus depriving it of its context and its social meaning.

The fact that media are biased and choose what to report according to their own agenda is not the issue in this case. What the comparison of the two murders shows, is that European and Western societies have failed to grasp the significance and the importance of the second murder in its social, political, and historical context.

The “lone wolf” who stabbed Marwa 18 times inside the courtroom is the product of the society he lives in. If anything, the murder of Marwa should raise the discussion about the latent (perhaps not so latent anymore) racism against Muslims that has been growing in European societies in the last few decades, and noticeably so since the mid-90s.

It would be difficult to avoid relating the crime to the discussions about the banning of the Niqab, or the previous discussions about the wearing of the veil. These issues and others pertaining to the Muslim immigration in Europe have been occupying large parts of the public debates in several European countries. It would also be difficult not to notice the rapid rise of right wing populist parties to power in several European countries in the last decade, all of which have built their discourse on the fear of Islam and the “immigration problem.”

The absence of reporting, or adequate reporting of the murder, and the alarm bells that did not ring after this murder, reflect the denial in which European societies and public discourse are immersed.

While Europe preaches freedom of expression and the need to accept otherness, and while Europe preaches about the dangers of racism and sectarianism in third world countries, and while Europe warns about hate speech and anti-Semitism, we see race-driven crime, prejudice, and hate speech gaining both legitimacy and power in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Denmark and other democracies in the old continent. Race-driven crimes are constantly presented as exceptions within a tolerant society. However, the recurrence of exceptions puts in question their exceptional nature.

The absence of Marwa’s story from the mainstream media and the failure to start a debate about the immediate dangers of present European anti-Muslim racism shows the depth of the problem and draws us to expect a gl oomy future for Muslims in Europe. Muslims like Neda only get to the news if their story serves the dominant narrative that presents Islam as the primary threat to freedom, while Muslims like Marwa who expose the pervasive racism of the West and challenge the existing stereotypes fail to get their story told.

What is significant to note is that in Neda’s case the media accused the Iranian regime as the authority responsible for the context in which the crime was committed rather than looking for the person who actually shot her. The accused is the establishment or the institution rather than the individual shooter. However, in the case of Marwa’s murder the media were persistent in stressing on the individuality of the murderer, calling him a “lone wolf”, implying that he is a social outcast who holds no ties to the society he lives in. The murderer was given a name “Alex W.” and the institution, the society, and the establishment he lives in were taken away from the picture.

While Neda’s death enjoyed wide arrays of interpretations and readings in context, Marwa’s death was deprived of its context and was presented as a personal tragedy, featuring a madman and his victim. Meanwhile Europe keeps shifting to the right at an accelerating pace, and cultural stereotypes, failure to integrate (read: social and political alienation), miscommunication, and a growing financial crisis only nourish this trajectory and support the populist and chauvinistic discourse of various newborn and resurrected right wing parties.

In the 1930s, following the big economical crisis of the 1920s, a young populist right wing party suddenly rose to power in Germany and few predicted what was to follow. There is no realistic proof to say that Europe is a more tolerant society than any other, or to say that people necessarily learn from their history, or even that some societies are exempt from racist behavior. All the evidence points to the end of the European myth of post-war tolerance; and the media have yet to connect the dots before history repeats itself.

– Walid El Hourican be reached at: walid@menassat.com. This article appeared in CounterPunch.org.

Effort to Build Large Mosque Rattles Some in Cologne

July 12, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Mark Landler, AFP

COLOGNE: In a city with the greatest Gothic cathedral in Germany, and no fewer than a dozen Romanesque churches, adding a pair of fluted minarets would scarcely alter the skyline. Yet plans for a new mosque are rattling this ancient city to its foundations.

map of Cologne, Germany, close to the Belgian and Dutch borders.

The city’s Muslim population, made up mostly of Turks, is pushing for approval to build what would be one of Germany’s largest mosques, in a working-class district across town from the cathedral’s mighty spires.

Predictably, an extreme-right local political party has waged a noisy, xenophobic protest campaign, drumming up support from its far-right allies in Austria and Belgium.

But the proposal has also drawn fierce criticism from a respected German-Jewish writer, Ralph

Giordano, who said the mosque would be “an expression of the creeping Islamization of our land.” He does not want to see women shrouded in veils on German streets, he said.

Giordano’s charged remarks, first made at a public forum here last month, have catapulted this local dispute into a national debate in Germany over how a secular society, with Christian roots, should accommodate the religious yearnings of its Muslim minority.

Mosques have risen in recent years in Berlin, Mannheim and Duisberg, each time provoking hand-wringing among some residents. But the dispute in Cologne, a city Pope Benedict XVI once called the Rome of the north, seems deeper and more far-reaching.

While Turkey itself is debating the role of Islam in its political life, Germans are starting to ask how – even if – the 2.7 million people of Turkish descent here can square their religious and cultural beliefs with a pluralistic society that enshrines the rights of women.

Giordano, a Holocaust survivor, has been sharply criticized, including by fellow Jews, and has received death threats. But others said he was giving voice to Germans, who for reasons of their past, are reluctant to express misgivings about the rise of Islam in their midst.

“We have a common historical background that makes us overly cautious in dealing with these issues,” said the mayor of Cologne, Fritz Schramma, who supports the mosque but is not without his qualms.

“For me, it is self-evident that the Muslims need to have a prestigious place of worship,” said Schramma, of the center-right Christian Democratic Union. “But it bothers me when people have lived here for 35 years and they don’t speak a single word of German.”

Cologne’s Roman Catholic leader, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, is similarly ambivalent. Asked in a radio interview if he was afraid of the mosque, he said, “I don’t want to say I’m afraid, but I have an uneasy feeling.”

Those statements rankle German-Turkish leaders, who have been working with the city since 2001 to build a mosque on the site of a converted drug factory, which now houses a far smaller mosque, a community center and the offices of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs.

“The 120,000 Muslims of Cologne don’t have a single place they can point to with pride as the symbol of our faith,” said Bekir Alboga, leader of interreligious dialogue at the union, which is known as Ditib. “Christians have their churches, Jews have their synagogues.”

Alboga, a 44-year-old Turkish imam who immigrated here at 18 and speaks rapid-fire German, said the mosque would be a “crowning moment for religious tolerance.” Given Germany’s dark history, he added, “German politicians need to be careful about what they say.”

Alboga said he was particularly dismayed by Meisner, because the Catholic Church, along with Germany’s Protestant churches, has long supported the mosque. Ditib, he said, is a moderate organization that acts as a “bulwark against radicalism and terrorism.” It plans to finance the project, which will cost more than $20 million, entirely through donations.

The group must obtain a building permit before it can break ground, but Alboga said he was confident the mosque would not be blocked. Ditib has agreed to various stipulations, including a ban on broadcasting the call to prayer over loudspeakers outside the building.

Public opinion about the project seems guardedly supportive, with a majority of residents saying they favor it, although more than a quarter want its size to be reduced. The polls, taken for a local newspaper, use small samples, 500 people, limiting their usefulness as a gauge of popular sentiment in city of one million.

Cologne, with one of the largest Muslim populations of any German city, already has nearly 30 mosques. Most are in converted factories or warehouses, often tucked away in hidden courtyards, which has contributed to a sense that Muslims in Germany can worship only furtively.

The new mosque would put Islam in plain sight – all the more so because the design calls for a domed building with glass walls. Showing off a model, designed by a German architect who specializes in churches, Alboga said, “Our hearts are open, our doors are open, our mosque is open.”

In some ways, the mosque seems calculated to avoid touching nerves. It would not be built near a church or loom over its neighbors, like the new mosque in Duisberg. It would be flanked by multistory office buildings and a giant television tower, which would dwarf its minarets.

Yet the Turkish community has run into fervent and organized opposition. The far-right party, Pro Cologne, which holds five of the 90 seats in the city council, collected 23,000 signatures on a petition demanding the halting of the project. The city said only 15,000 of them were genuine.

On June 16, Pro Cologne mobilized 200 people at a rally to protest the mosque. Among those on hand were the leaders of Austria’s Freedom Party, which was founded by Jörg Haider, and the extremist party Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest, from Antwerp. Both advocate the deportation of immigrants.

Cologne’s deputy mayor, Elfi Scho-Antwerpes, a Social Democrat, appeared with Turkish leaders at a counter-demonstration across the street. Schramma, she noted, did not show up.

Giordano, the German-Jewish writer, said Germany needed to face the fact that, after three generations of Turkish immigration, efforts to integrate that minority had failed. Immigrants, he said, sought the privileges of membership in German society but refused to bear the obligations.

Germany’s “false tolerance,” he asserted, enabled the Sept. 11 hijackers to use Hamburg as a haven in which to hatch their terrorist plot. Cologne, too, has struggled with radical Islamic figures, most notably Metin Kaplan, a militant Turkish cleric known as the Caliph of Cologne.

“I don’t want to see women on the street wearing burqas,” Giordano said. “I’m insulted by that – not by the women themselves, but by the people who turned them into human penguins.”

Such blunt language troubles other German Jews, who say a victim of religious persecution should not take a swipe at another religious minority.

Henryk Broder, a Jewish journalist who is a friend of Giordano’s, said he should have avoided the phrase “human penguins.”

But Broder said the underlying message was valid, and that Giordano’s stature as a writer gives him the standing to say it. “A mosque is more than a church or a synagogue,” he said. “It is a political statement.”

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