DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks indicate authorities in the United Arab Emirates debated whether to keep quiet about the high-profile killing of a Hamas operative in Dubai in January.
The documents also show the UAE sought U.S. help in tracking down details of credit cards Dubai police believe were used by a foreign hit squad involved in the killing. The spy novel-like slaying, complete with faked passports and assassins in disguise, is widely believed to be the work of Israeli secret agents.
Dubai officials didn’t discuss Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s death publicly until Jan. 29 – nine days after his body was discovered in a locked airport hotel room and only after Hamas itself announced the killing.
The delayed acknowledgment followed talks at the highest levels of the UAE government, where officials discussed whether “to say nothing at all, or to reveal more or less the full extent of the UAE’s investigations,” according to one of the cables.
Police initially referred to the killers as an “experienced criminal gang” traveling on European passports, and only later blamed Israel’s Mossad spy agency directly. Hamas also accuses Israel of the slaying.
Israel has never acknowledged that it carried out the hit.
The cables, which were released Saturday, don’t shed new light on the killers’ identities. But in one, the American ambassador to the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi points to a possible motive behind the UAE’s decision to eventually reveal details of the murder.
“Saying nothing would have been perceived as protecting the Israelis and in the end, the UAE chose to tell all,” Ambassador Richard Olson wrote. “The statement was carefully drafted not to point any fingers, but the reference … to a gang with western passports will be read locally as referring to the Mossad.”
Another cable outlines a request the Emirates made on Feb. 24 for U.S. help in tracking down cardholder details and other information relating to credit cards linked to the suspected killers.
Dubai police say many of the alleged members of the hit squad used prepaid credit cards issued by a bank in Iowa that were distributed through another U.S. company known as Payoneer.
U.S. embassy officials passed on details of the request to the FBI and urged Washington to handle it urgently, according to the cable.
Dubai’s government media office said it was looking into the disclosures and had no immediate comment on Tuesday.