It sounds like a Hollywood thriller: An 11-man hit squad travels to Dubai on fake passports, assassinates a Palestinian politician in his hotel room, and then vanishes into thin air. But the daring January 19 raid was all too real, and now, as an international outrage explodes, many are blaming the Israeli secret service, Mossad. Here's what you need to know:
Working together, 11 individuals known as the "Dubai 11" targeted and killed a Palestinian politician in his hotel room at the Bustan Rotana hotel in Dubai on January 19.
What exactly did the security cameras capture?
Who was the victim?
Mahmoud al Mabhouh, a 49-year-old senior military commander for Hamas, the Islamic group that governs the Gaza portion of Palestine and is frequently characterized as a "terrorist" group.
How did the assassins kill him?
According to news reports, he was either "electrocuted, poisoned, strangulated, or suffocated," or "any permutation or combination" of that. Suffocation is the leading theory.
Who are the Dubai 11?
Earlier this week, Dubai officials released names, photos, and passport numbers of the 11 "foreigners" they believe perpetrated the killings. "Six of the passports are British, three are Irish," while the remaining two passports are German and French, reports Newsweek.
How did the hit go down?
The group of 11 assassins split into two teams. Nine tracked the target from Dubai airport to his hotel, while two did the deed. Closed circuit TV shows that the killers entered and left al Mabhouh's room using duplicate keys. The entire operation took less than 24 hours; the killing itself a "few minutes."
How did the killers evade capture?
By scattering themselves and mimicking tourists. The 11 assassins flew in and out of Dubai on different flights, stayed in different hotels, disguised themselves as "innocent tourists or business people" with fake moustaches, wigs, and glasses — and even took time to play tennis.
Are the British or Irish to blame?
Probably not. Both the British and Irish governments say passports bearing their countries' names were "either fraudulently obtained or [are] outright fakes." Israel resident Michael Barney, a British ex-pat identified as a member of the 11, told the British Daily Mail that his identity had been "effectively stolen."
Which country is responsible?
Noting that other passports also "belong" to current Israeli residents, many commentators are pointing the finger at Mossad, the Israeli version of the CIA. The killing, says The Independent's Robert Fisk, is "part of an old, dirty war between the Israelis and the Palestinians...they have been murdering their secret police antagonists for decades."
Has Israel admitted responsibility?
No. In a radio interview, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Liberman neither confirmed nor denied Israeli involvement, adding that Israel has a "policy of ambiguity" regarding its security activities.
But isn't Israel known for killings like this?
Yes. Its history is filled with "cheap thriller-esque spy games," says Hisham Wyne in The Huffington Post — notably its decision to use a roving hit squad to retaliate against Palestinians following the 1972 Munich hostage crisis.
Why would Israel want al Mabhouh dead?
The murdered Palestinian was "one of the founders of the military wing of Hamas," and was considered to be "the point man in smuggling Iranian rockets into Gaza."
What's fueling the international outrage?
The fake passports. The British Foreign Office has demanded that the Israeli ambassador to the UK explain how British passports ended up in the hands of the killers. If Israel sanctioned "identity theft" to assassinate al Mabhouh, a diplomatic rift between it and European countries is likely.
If Israel is behind the plot, did it achieve its aims?
No, because the murder was "badly bungled," argues Seumas Milne in The Guardian. The killers were "repeatedly caught on [security footage]" and the "hamfisted passport scam" has "effectively exposed Israel's responsibility."
Is it like Mossad to "bungle" a killing?
Yes and no. Although Mossad has failed before — notably in the 1997 assassination attempt on Hamas leader Khalid Mish'al — the nature of the "mistakes" here suggest Mossad was "framed," say some. One ex-CIA agent told Britain's Sky News that "Mossad would never be so obvious as to use passports that could be traced back to Israel."
What happens next?
Confusingly, Dubai has just arrested two Palestinians in relation to the crime, even though the chief of police said he was "99 percent sure" that Israel was to blame. With speculation that "senior Palestinian defectors may have been involved in the plot," we may have to wait for conclusive answers.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How U.S. special forces are preparing for the worst-case scenario in North Korea
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- I hate Ayn Rand — but here's why my fellow conservatives love her
- The best online movies to watch this weekend
- The 11 worst fast food restaurants in America
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- The danger of the Democrats' lack of desperation
- The biggest lesson Obama failed to learn from Bush
- The secret to Gabrielle Hamilton's amazing grilled cheese sandwiches
- Hey, Paul Ryan's new poverty plan isn't completely terrible!
Subscribe to the Week