The assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh: Who is the digitized man?


There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding the release of CCTV footage, from Dubai’s airport, shopping centers and luxury hotels, tracking the alleged killers of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a top Hamas official.

Dubai has not directly accused Israel (although Hamas is blaming the Mossad). Eleven members of the alleged team have been identified through presumably false passports. Another six are not at all identified. Al Mabhouh ran guns to Hamas and was believed responsible for the 1989 killings of two Israeli soldiers, Avi Sasportas and Ilan Saadon. Here’s The New York Times story.

A number of networks have edited the released footage, but the full 27 minutes produced by Dubai police and available through Gulf News, is worth a look. First of all, because — entirely silent — it plays like the climactic 20 minute sequence in a 1960s caper flick.

But there’s a mystery too: Only two figures in the whole edit have their faces digitized.

Subtitles around the 20-minute mark suggest (but don’t spell out) the reason for the second occurence: A tourist arrives at al Mabhouh’s hotel floor and has a friendly conversation with "Kevin," one of the alleged assasins. It’s not clear if this person is involved with the plot, or whether Kevin is trying to distract her (I think it’s a her) just as the killing is about to take place.

Digitizing her face makes sense, from the point of view of Dubai police: Hamas has already sworn to avenge the killing. Were the organization to stumble upon the alleged killers, the Dubai police would probably not be too bothered — they are outraged by the killing on their turf. On the other hand, the police would not want to be implicated in the killing of an innocent tourist who made the mistake of getting off on the wrong floor.

It’s the first digitization, between 13:35 and 13:50, that I find intriguing. Kevin, disguised in a wig, is leaving a hotel — not identified by the video — to head for Al Bustan Rotana, where al-Mabhouh is registered in room 230.

A tall beefy guy, dressed in western clothes — jeans, sneakers, light blue t-shirt, dark blue windbreaker — follows him to the taxi stand, casually strolling.

Who is this guy? Why is his face digitized, when everyone else — hotel staff, passersby — is left identifiable? Why is this hotel, where Kevin and another alleged operative, Gail, have checked in, never identified? Was Kevin, following Mabhouh, himself followed?

In the video, Dubai police said they had the case cracked within 24 hours. I’m not an expert, but how is this plausible, however professional and expert this police force is? The footage is incredibly diffuse: They knew where to look, which hotels and which floors to track, where to look in the shopping center.

Did someone tip off the Dubai police? Which organization would have advance knowledge of such a hit? Why would it leak the info?

UPDATE: This AP story raises another wrinkle. Israeli officials are all but denying that it was a Mossad hit and are suggesting that the Mossad was set up to be blamed. Experts note that seven of the foreign national identities were stolen from Israelis with dual citizenship; the Mossad, reputedly, never uses Israelis as cover identities.


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