Brian Whitaker
The Guardian (Opinion)
February 17, 2010 - 1:00am

Murder is a serious matter but amid tales of forged passports, not to mention the suspects' use of wigs and glasses for disguise, there's more than a touch of the Hollywood thriller about Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's killing.

Already fingers are being pointed at the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad – and not without reason. Israel had an obvious motive (Mabhouh was a senior Hamas figure wanted by Israel but living out of reach in Syria) as well as the form (numerous assassinations and other exploits in various countries, such as the arrest of Mordechai Vanunu).

Mabhouh was also involved in the weapons business – a murky world where deals that go wrong can sometimes have fatal consequences – and there may even have been other governments that wanted him out of the way. In short, there's still a lot that we don't know about the murder, so it's unwise to jump to conclusions.

Among former Israeli agents quoted in the media today, there's a full range of opinion about the possibility or not of Mossad's involvement. One, pointing to the killers' trail of clues and apparently careless shortcuts, says it "does not look like an Israeli operation" while another describes it as "super-super-professional" with Mossad as the "logical" organisation behind it.

If Mossad does emerge as the culprit, relations between Israel and Europe could take a serious knock over the forging of British, Irish, French and German passports. But on past experience – with almost all governments having dodgy practices in the world of secret agents that they would rather keep quite about – it's likely to be short-lived.

Nor can we be entirely confident that investigators in the UAE will get to the bottom of it, especially if it starts to look complicated politically. (For instance, there are already cryptic reports about two unnamed Palestinian "suspects" being questioned after having fled to Jordan.)

While the Dubai police seem to have fallen lucky with so much CCTV evidence, it's worth recalling that in the neighbouring emirate of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Issa, the ruler's brother, was recently acquitted of torture despite the broadcasting of a video that showed him doing it.

Ironically, fallout from the murder may cause most damage to those defenders of civil liberties who campaign against the spread of CCTV and biometrics. Without all the cameras in Dubai, there would have been far less evidence to work from. And with biometric passports the killers would probably not have been able to pose as someone else.


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