Search still on for fifth passport holder

 

EFFORTS ARE continuing to contact the fifth Irish citizen whose passport number corresponds with that of a fake Irish passport used by a member of the team allegedly responsible for assassinating a senior Hamas official in Dubai.

It emerged on Thursday that five Irish passports – and not three as initially thought – are being examined as part of the investigation into the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was found dead in his hotel room last month.

The alleged assassins also used six forged passports from Britain, and one each from Germany and France, according to Dubai police.

Scanned copies of the five fake Irish passports apparently used in the operation have been handed over to the Irish Ambassador to Abu Dhabi, Ciarán Madden. The passports had genuine numbers but fake names, photographs and signatures.

Four of the five Irish people whose passport numbers have been implicated have been notified by the Department of Foreign Affairs. All live in Ireland, and none had lost their passports or had them stolen. One of the passports had already expired. None of the four has travelled to the Middle East.

The department has offered to issue all four with new passports. Two of those concerned were due to fly out of Ireland this weekend, and could have been arrested following the issuing of Interpol red alerts.

Dubai’s police chief has said he is “99 per cent certain” that Israel’s intelligence service, Mossad, was behind the killing. But the Israeli government has countered that it was “not correct to assume” this was the case.

Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Zion Evrony, was called to a meeting at the Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday, but said he “knew nothing” about the events in Dubai.

Israeli diplomats in London, Berlin and Paris have been requested to provide any information that might explain the use of the European passports.

Speculation that European passport holders were involved in the assassination surfaced in the Gulf in late January. On February 4th, the Khaleej Times, a daily newspaper, ran a report based on unnamed sources claiming that Irish passport holders were implicated.

This prompted the Irish Embassy in Abu Dhabi to contact the Dubai authorities, but no information was forthcoming at that stage.

From that point on, Irish officials were in daily contact with their Emirati counterparts, but no further details were provided until Dubai police gave a press conference on Monday in which they outlined the operation and provided names, photographs and the alleged nationalities of 11 suspects.

The controversy over the use of fake European documentation, and the diplomatic tension it has caused, is expected to dominate a pre-planned visit by Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to Brussels on Monday.

EU foreign ministers will attend their monthly General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on the same day. Mr Lieberman is due to hold bilateral talks with some of his European counterparts, including British foreign secretary David Miliband.

No arrangements have been made as yet for Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin to meet Mr Lieberman.

Last night Mr Miliband, who described the fraudulent use of passports as an outrage, rejected charges that the British government was being soft on Israel.

However, speaking at a public meeting in London, he said: “It is very important, though, that we build our case before we make accusations. We expect the Israelis to co-operate, and that is the right thing to do.”

Speaking earlier at the Irish Cultural Centre in London, Mr Miliband said the Irish and British governments were working “in joint step” in their investigations.

He said the Brussels meeting would offer an opportunity to “take up the discussions that started in both of our capitals at an official level [on Thursday] at the meetings with ambassadors”.

“I’m sure that in Ireland, as much as in Great Britain, the passport is seen as an item of great integrity and huge personal importance, and anything which suggests that a person’s passport can be tampered with gives rise to great concern,” Mr Miliband said.