Dubai Now Seeking 26 Suspects in Hamas Killing

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Raissa Kasolowsky and Cynthia Johnston

DUBAI (Reuters) – Dubai is hunting for at least 26 people over the killing of a Hamas commander in a Dubai hotel in a suspected Israeli operation that has caused a diplomatic furor.

Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed last month in his hotel room in what Dubai police say they are near certain was a hit by Israel’s Mossad spy agency.

Dubai police added 15 new names on Wednesday to a list of suspects wanted over the killing. Six carried British passports, three held Irish documents, three were Australian, and three French, the Dubai government said in a statement.

Israeli media reported on Wednesday the new list could involve further cases of identity theft.

Dubai authorities had earlier named 11 suspects, who they said travelled on fraudulent British, Irish, French and German passports to kill Mabhouh. Six were Britons living in Israel who deny involvement and say their identities were stolen.

“Dubai investigators are not ruling out the possibility of involvement of other people in the murder,” the statement said.

The suspected killers’ use of passports from countries including Britain and France has drawn criticism from the European Union. Some of the governments involved have summoned their Israeli ambassadors.

“We will not be silent on this matter. It is a matter of deep concern. It really goes to the integrity and fabric of the use of state documents, which passports are, for other purposes,” Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, as his government summoned Israel’s ambassador.

The Dubai statement said: “Friendly governments (which) have been assisting in this investigation have indicated to the police in Dubai that the passports were issued in an illegal and fraudulent manner.”

It said pictures on the passports did not correspond to their original owners.

In a statement on Monday that European diplomats said was intended as a rebuke to Israel, EU foreign ministers said that the assassination was “profoundly disturbing.”

Israel has not denied or confirmed it played any role but its foreign minister said there was nothing to link it to the killing. The United States, Israel’s main ally, has kept silent about the affair.

Mabhouh, born in the Gaza Strip, had lived in Syria since 1989 and Israeli and Palestinian sources have said he played a key role in smuggling Iranian-funded arms to militants in Gaza.

A Hamas official and Israel have also said he masterminded the capture and killing of two Israeli soldiers during a Palestinian uprising in the 1980s.

Like last week, Dubai police released passport photos and closed-circuit television footage of the new suspects, who police said arrived from cities including Zurich, Paris, Rome, Milan and Hong Kong.

“This was to take the camouflage and deception to its utmost level and to guarantee the avoidance of any security supervision or observation of their movements,” the statement said.

Once their part in the operation was completed, the suspects again dispersed to different parts of the world, with two suspects leaving Dubai by boat for Iran, it said.

Dubai police also released credit card details of some of the suspects. At least 13 credit cards used to book hotel rooms and pay for air travel were issued by the same small U.S. lender, MetaBank. The bank declined comment.

“MetaBank is declining comment pending a factual review of this matter,” it said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

Israel’s Ynet news website said it had tracked down a person with the same name as one of the suspects living in Tel Aviv.

“I am in shock from what I just heard. This is an identity theft. I cannot believe it,” Adam Marcus Korman, an Australian-born Israeli, told the website.

Several other names listed as suspects by Dubai police were similar to those of people listed in the Israeli telephone directory, including two named as British passport holders. Reuters was not immediately able to contact any of those people.

Two Palestinians suspected of providing logistical support were in detention and Dubai’s police chief has said he believes the operation could not have been carried out without information from inside Hamas on Mabhouh’s travel details.

An official from the movement was quoted as saying last week that Hamas had launched an investigation to try to discover “how the Mossad was able to carry out the operation.

Mossad is believed to have stepped up covert missions against Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia as well as Iran’s nuclear project.

Mabhouh’s killing was the third high profile murder in less than two years in trade and tourism hub Dubai, one of seven emirates in the UAE federation, where violent crime is rare.

(Additional reporting by Rania Oteify in Dubai, Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem, Daniel Wilchins in New York and Rob Taylor in Canberra, Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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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

China House Hunting to Rev up Economy

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Simon Rabinovitch

BEIJING, Aug 18 (Reuters) – The Chinese government is attempting to pass the baton of growth from state-funded infrastructure investment to the private housing sector, a risky but necessary move to sustain the economic recovery.

Construction cranes sprouting in big cities, busy furniture shops and soaring property sales all show that the transition is going smoothly so far, though officials are wary that house prices may rise too high, too quickly.

China’s biggest listed property developer, Vanke <000002.SZ>, lifted its housing starts target for this year by 45 percent, while its rival Poly Real Estate <600048.SS> said sales in January-July rose 143 percent from a year earlier.

On the ground, construction firms, big and small, are trying to meet the demand, last years’ downturn now a distant memory.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a day off. Several months, I think, though I can’t remember exactly,” said Zhang Minghui, owner of a small building company in Beijing.

“From late last year to early this year, we basically had nothing to do. Everybody was careful with their money because of the crisis and so projects got delayed.”
Zhang cut his staff to three in November but is now back up to a crew of 14.

The economic importance of the property sector in China is hard to overstate. Investment in residential housing accounted for about 10 percent of gross domestic product before a property boom turned to bust in 2008, roughly the same as the contribution from the country’s vaunted export factories.

The government’s first steps last year to revive the stalling Chinese economy were to offer tax cuts to encourage home purchases, followed by rules to ease access to mortgages.

These are bearing fruit.

With housing investment up an annual 11.6 percent in the first seven months, Chinese growth momentum is broadening out and the central government has been able to slow the pace of its stimulus spending on infrastructure.

But Beijing must strike a fine balance in its bid to kick-start the housing market.

On the one hand, it wants rising prices to persuade house hunters to stop putting off purchases and to get developers to invest in new projects. On the other hand, it is wary of prices rising too quickly, luring speculators into the market and turning it into an asset bubble, not an economic driver.

“Because it is closely linked to so many industries, volatility in the real estate market will inevitably lead to macroeconomic volatility,” the government-run China Economic Times warned on Monday.

The housing market rebound in Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and other big cities means that prices are already back to their 2007 peak, the report noted.

While prices are high, a surge in sales has depleted housing inventories and developers need to break ground to catch up, Ken Peng, an economist at Citigroup in Beijing, said.

That the Chinese property sector is at a turning point, just getting back on its feet, is seen in the differing fortunes of shops at the Shilihe hardware market in east Beijing.

Those selling goods for early stages of construction, such as tiles, say business is strong. Vendors of lights, among the final purchases for a new home, say it is only now perking up.

“We have done some sales to attract shoppers. But we have actually started scaling these back,” said Chen Yu, a saleswoman at Jushang Lights.

The government can take heart in how most of the real estate money has been spent to date.

Investment in property construction was up a fifth in western China — the part of the country with the biggest need for new housing — in June compared with a year earlier. Wealthier coastal areas in the east, which are already heavily built up, saw a 4.4 percent rise.

But officials are wary of another boom in housing prices paving the way for yet another bust. A handful of Chinese cities have made mortgage lending terms on second homes stiffer to try to keep speculators at bay.

Several real estate agents said the market seemed to have cooled over the past few weeks.

Shanghai Xinyi, a real estate agency in China’s financial centre, said transactions in August fell by half from July.

A salesman surnamed Luo at a Shenzhen branch of Centaline China confirmed that business has slowed down from its brisk pace in the first half.

“It was not rare for house sellers to cancel their original contracts and lift their asking price, even if it meant paying a penalty,” he said by phone. “But the momentum has weakened in August. We could feel the effect of the government’s tightening-up of loans for second homes.”

However, Dong Tao, an economist with Credit Suisse in Hong Kong, offered another explanation of the drop in transactions.

Soaring demand gobbled up whatever homes were on the market and so developers simply must build more, he said in a research note. But it takes time to buy land and obtain approvals.

“After many sites have passed the paperwork phase, we expect housing construction to rise significantly over the summer time.”

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Graphics by Catherine Trevethan; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

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