GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A Hamas leader assassinated during a visit to Dubai last month exposed himself to attack when he breached security protocol by talking about his trip over the phone and making hotel reservations on the Internet, the militant Islamic group said Saturday.
The methodical stalking and killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a luxury hotel room — widely been blamed on Israel's Mossad spy agency — has put Hamas on the defensive over purported security lapses.
The new details emerged as the case has spread across several continents with investigators probing possible credit card links to U.S.-based banks and European officials grilling Israeli envoys over fraudulent passports.
Hamas legislator Salah Bardawil said al-Mabhouh unwittingly led his attackers to him by openly planning his travels — a move that would make him easily traceable if he were already under surveillance.
"Al-Mabhouh called his family by phone before he traveled to Dubai and told them of his plan to stay in a specific hotel, and he booked his travel through the Internet. This undoubtedly created a security breach in the movements of al-Mabhouh," Bardawil told reporters in Gaza.
Al-Mabhouh's brother, Fayek, denied the phone leak, saying the slain operative didn't reveal any details regarding his reservations or other travel plans.
"I am the last one who received a call from Mahmoud," the brother told The Associated Press in an interview. "He didn't tell me that he was going to Dubai and he never told any one of the family the details of his work or his movements."
Israel has declined to confirm or deny Mossad's involvement, offering only vague statements that deflect the issue amid international pressure over the alleged use of European passports by Israeli agents.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Saturday there was no evidence that Israel was involved in the killing.
"I don't predict a crisis with European allies because there is nothing that ties Israel to the assassination," Danny Ayalon's office said. "Britain, France and Germany all share our interests in the fight against global terror, therefore there will be no crisis, instead our relations will continue to deepen."
Dubai police have blamed Mossad and named 11 suspects who apparently traveled to Dubai on European passports. Two Palestinians also are being held in Dubai on suspicion they helped the assassins.
The assassination also triggered accusations between the rival factions Hamas and Fatah, which have long competed for influence in the Palestinian territories. Gaza's Hamas rulers and the moderate Fatah party that governs the West Bank traded allegations that members of each group collaborated with the spy agency but both hold Israel responsible for the assassination itself.
Interpol has put the 11 suspects on its top watch list but said those whose identities were stolen should be able to travel as usual though may face more scrutiny.
The alleged killers also used fraudulent passports to open five credit cards accounts through U.S.-based banks, said the official, who has close knowledge of the investigation. The official gave no additional details, and spoke on condition of anonymity in line with standing policy
Israel says al-Mabhouh played a major part in smuggling advanced rockets from Iran to Palestinian militants in Gaza. He was also long wanted by Israel for his role in the 1989 kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers on leave.
Sgt. Avi Sasportas was abducted outside the coastal city of Ashkelon, near the Gaza Strip, and shot to death in 1989. Cpl. Ilan Saadon was abducted the same year while hitchhiking just north of Gaza. His body was found in 1996 buried under a coastal road south of Tel Aviv.
At least seven of the 11 suspected assassins identified by Dubai police share names with Israelis who also carry European citizenship. But most of the identities appear to be stolen and the Israelis claim they are victims of identity theft.