Pressure on Israel to give information on fake passports
ISRAEL CAME under increasing pressure last night to provide information that might explain why members of the hit team allegedly responsible for assassinating a senior Hamas official in Dubai were carrying fake European documentation, including five counterfeit Irish passports with numbers that match those on legitimate Irish passports.
As speculation mounted that Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, may have been behind the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, Zion Evrony, was called to a meeting at the Department of Foreign Affairs to discuss the use of fake Irish passports.
Sources described the 20-minute meeting, which was attended by the department’s secretary general, David Cooney, and the assistant secretary in charge of the passport office, Ray Bassett, as “direct and frank”. Mr Evrony was accompanied by Ruth Zakh, counsellor at the Israeli embassy.
Details of the counterfeit passports were provided to the ambassador, and the Israeli authorities were requested to provide whatever information and assistance they could in relation to the case.
“It was stressed that, regardless of who was responsible, the Government takes grave exception to the forgery and misuse of Irish passports, which could devalue the standing of the passports and potentially put at risk the safety of Irish citizens travelling abroad,” the department said in a statement.
Mr Evrony said he had no information on the matter, but that he would relay the messages he had received to the Israeli authorities.
Israel’s ambassadors in London and Paris were called to meetings with British and French officials yesterday as diplomatic tensions rose amid continuing revelations.
Germany has demanded that the Israeli embassy in Berlin address the issue of the use of a German passport.
It is now believed that up to 18 suspects may have been involved in the assassination.
The Dubai authorities have said the hit squad used British, Irish, French and German passports.
The number of fake Irish passports involved was initially understood to be three, but yesterday the Irish Ambassador to Abu Dhabi, Ciarán Madden, was informed by Emirati officials that two more had been used. As in the other cases, only the passport numbers correspond with genuine Irish passports.
Four of the Irish citizens whose passport numbers were copied in the forged documents have been contacted by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
All four live in Ireland, and none has travelled to the Middle East. In one case, the number found on the fake passport corresponds with a genuine, but expired, passport.
Two of the four people affected were due to travel this weekend. Given that information from the fake passports has been handed over to Interpol, the two unsuspecting Irish passport holders would probably have been arrested as they attempted to fly, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said.
“It is an extremely serious incident and event and puts the security of Irish citizens at risk – there is no question of that,” he said.
Mr Martin added that he believed the numbers had been randomly stolen.
Earlier this week, the Minister faced criticism at a meeting of the Oireachtas European affairs committee as several deputies argued that the Government had been slow to respond to the misuse of Irish passport data.
Labour TD Joe Costello accused the Government yesterday of only acting after Britain pledged a full investigation and announced that it was calling the Israeli ambassador in London for a meeting.
“It is still unclear how the passports came to be used by the assassination squad,” Mr Costello said.
“The Minister has a lot of questions to answer. He should answer them openly and swiftly to quell fears that the integrity of the Irish passport has been breached on a large scale.”
Meanwhile, the international reach of the alleged assassination plot appeared to widen further, with the Wall Street Journalreporting that Dubai authorities were examining five US-issued credit-card accounts they suspect were used by the team to buy flight tickets linked to the operation.
Police in Dubai have said the alleged assassins left the emirate several hours after the killing for destinations in Europe, Asia and Africa.
There are also reports that the team used mobile phones with Austrian Sim cards.