DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Britons who were named as the suspected assassins of Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai last month have told U.K. media that their identities were stolen and they are now living in fear.
“I’m not exactly spy material,” one of the men, 54-year-old Michael Lawrence Barney said, explaining that he had undergone quadruple bypass surgery.
He and others spoke out as U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, describing the British passport as “an important document,” promised a full investigation.
There is growing speculation that the Israeli spy agency, Mossad, may have been behind the Jan. 19 assassination, with Amir Oren, a military analyst for the Israeli daily Haaretz, calling for the ouster of Mossad director Meir Dagan.
Senior Israeli security officials not directly involved with the affair told the Associated Press that they were convinced it was a Mossad operation because of the motive and the use of Israeli identities.
However, Rafi Eitan, a former Cabinet minister and Mossad agent who took part in the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, thought Israel’s foes were trying to “taint” it by using the identities of Israelis.
‘I’m being called a terrorist’
Britain’s Barney, like several of the suspects named by Dubai authorities, moved from Britain to live in Israel, initially working in a kibbutz in the 1970s.
After authorities in Dubai published the list of 11 people wanted in connection with the killing of Mabhouh, he immediately looked for his passport and found it was still in his home.
“I can only think that someone has effectively stolen my identity and used it to carry out this attack. It’s terrifying,” Barney, a father of three, told the Daily Mail.
“I was shocked. My picture is being beamed around the world and I’m being called a terrorist.”
Another on the list, Stephen Daniel Hodes, 37, told the BBC, “I don’t know how they got my details, who took them. I’ve never been to Dubai ever. I don’t know who’s behind this. I am just scared, these are major forces.”
‘Like an espionage movie’
And Paul Keeley, 42, a builder who was born in Havering, Essex, England, but now lives on a kibbutz, told the Daily Telegraph: “I have not left Israel for two years and I certainly have not been to Dubai recently.
“I woke up this morning and suddenly my life is like an espionage movie. It is all very worrying but I know I have not done anything wrong.”
Dubai police this week released names, photos, and passport numbers of 11 members of an alleged hit-squad that killed Mabhouh in his luxury Dubai hotel room last month.
Dubai said all 11 carried European passports. But most of the identities appear to be stolen and at least seven matched up with real people in Israel who claim they are victims of identity theft.
Prime Minister Brown told London’s LBC Radio that a “full investigation” would be carried out.
“The evidence has got to be assembled about what has actually happened and how it happened and why it happened and it is necessary for us to accumulate that evidence before we can make statements,” he said.
Lawmaker Menzies Campbell, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, the smallest of Britain’s three main parties, said that “if the Israeli government was party to behavior of this kind it would be a serious violation of trust between nations.”
And he added “the Israeli government has some explaining to do” and called for the ambassador to be summoned “in double-quick time.”
However Israel’s foreign minister said on Wednesday the use of the identities of foreign-born Israelis by the hit squad did not prove that Mossad had assassinated Mabhouh.
“There is no reason to think that it was the Israeli Mossad, and not some other intelligence service or country up to some mischief,” Avigdor Lieberman, asked about the operation and alleged passport subterfuge, told Army Radio.
Lieberman did not deny outright Israeli involvement in the killing of Hamas’ Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel last month, saying Israel has a “policy of ambiguity” on intelligence matters and there was no proof it was behind the assassination.
“I think Britain recognizes that Israel is a responsible country and that our security activity is conducted according to very clear, cautious and responsible rules of the game. Therefore we have no cause for concern,” he said.
Israeli lawmaker Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy commander of the Shin Bet internal security service, said he would ask to convene a meeting of the Israeli parliament’s powerful foreign affairs and defense committee to discuss the matter.
“No one should use someone’s identity without his permission or without his understanding in some way what it is being used for,” Hasson told Israel Radio.