Britain expels diplomat over faked passports in Hamas hit row

Spy games

Britain plans to expel an Israeli diplomat over the use of counterfeit UK passports in the Dubai murder of a Hamas military commander, the BBC reports.

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, founder of Hamas's military wing, was murdered in a Dubai hotel room on 19 January by members of a 27-strong hit squad who entered the Arab state using fake or fraudulently obtained passports. A dozen of the suspects used British passports, in many cases travelling using the identity of UK expats living in Israel who hold dual citizenship.

Dubai police released pictures of the suspects culled from CCTV footage last month. A number of Palestinians are also suspected of collaborating in the hit, which Dubai police blame on Israel.

Israeli authorities have neither confirmed nor denied their involvement in the hit, in continuation of a long standing policy. The circumstances and planning of the assassination - fake identities, disguises, lookouts, counterfeit credit cards etc - carry the hallmarks of a Mossad-executed operation.

Al-Mabhouh was travelling using a false passport and on a stopover in Dubai en route to China when he was killed by a combination of electrocution and strangulation in his room in a luxury Dubai hotel. The militant, who survived at least two failed assassination attempts beforehand, was suspected in the involvement of arms trafficking between Iran and militants in Gaza.

Stolen identities

Several of the people whose identities were stolen have come forward to express their shock over the affair, among them Melvyn Mildiner, an Israel-resident British IT worker. Other suspects travelled using counterfeit Irish, French, German and Australian travel documents.

European foreign ministers quickly banded together to condemn the misuse of Western passports. The Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) launched an investigation into the the misuse of British passports by the hit squad at the request of the Foreign Office last month.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband is due to make a statement to Parliament on Tuesday afternoon (1530 GMT) when he is expected to announce the progress of this inquiry and the expulsion of an Israeli mid-level diplomat. The expulsion is intended to send a message that Britain will not tolerate the misuse of its passports by foreign intelligence agencies, whether or not they work for friendly countries.

Miliband, who previously described the misuse of British passports as an "outrage", is expected to stop short of accusing Israel directly of al-Mabhouh's murder. However, he is expected to repeat demands for Israel to co-operate fully in SOCA's investigation of how the counterfeit passports were obtained.

Israel's ministry of foreign affairs declined to comment, but Sky News spoke to Knesset member Aryeh Eldad, who speculated that the move may lead to the tit-for-tat expulsion of a British diplomat from Israel, possibly a military attache.

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