Scenes from an Assassination

10:42 Thu 18 Feb 2010
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Dubai has released surveillance footage of people allegedly responsible for the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the Hamas leader who was killed in Dubai last month. Threat Level has a good article including the footage and discussion.

A few things stand out to me: first, the fact that they were able to put the footage together strikes me as a little disturbing even though it’s not surprising. That’s probably due more to my discomfort with the prevalence of surveillance than anything specific to this case: once they had the (false) papers for the individuals they could figure out where they were staying, and when they came into the country, and so on, and then limit their review of the video to those places and periods.

The most striking thing, though: a team of eleven? Really? Eleven people seems like a pretty unwieldy group for an assassination. One person is probably unrealistic, and might be something that’s less prevalent in the real world than in movies, but I would have thought a team of three to five. Eleven makes me think that either there was something else going on (or that they were potentially prepared to handle) or that someone had a reason to pad the numbers. Two other possible explanations: this group only hire out as a team, or there were multiple groups directing them and the function of a bunch of the team members were to keep an eye on other team members. If the popular speculation that they were Mossad is correct, two more possibilities emerge: bureaucratic padding, as Mossad is a bureaucracy like all agencies; and the option that some of the team were there as part of training.

Lastly, I’m a little surprised that they apparently communicated by calling Austrian phone numbers. Granted that these calls aren’t going to look suspicious coming from Dubai hotel rooms, but is that a better method than something internet-based, or perhaps using mobile phones? We don’t know whether or not they used other communication strategies as well, so calling Austria (or Austrian numbers, rather) might have been just one part of their communications. Given that this was clearly a professional squad, suspected by many to be Mossad, their approach is likely well-tested and effective—although again, it seems that the size of the team would put a certain strain on whatever secret communication technique they might use.

I also find it interesting that they used Irish passports (which were fakes). The Irish aren’t particularly disliked by groups in the Middle East (that I know of, anyway), and in addition Irish passports may be easier to forge and harder to check up on electronically.

3 Responses to “Scenes from an Assassination”

  1. Graham Says:

    I love the way instincts in mortal combat always underlie your political ones!

  2. Steve Casey Says:

    I’ve always found it odd that in the movies people have such little problem tracking individuals covertly. They freely loose visual contact and pick it up again a few streets later, they’re never caught behind traffic lights or in traffic jams.

    I’d have assumed it’s a large contingent because in real life we don’t know where people are going to be, or what route they take. More feet on the ground give more coverage to keep track of someone covertly. In real life we don’t have live satellite tracking (don’t be tricked by Google Maps/Earth, that’s done by airplanes, not satellites).

    Of course, you presumably also need to cover a few areas for the actual assassination? Unless you’ve got a great deal of inside information (risky, I’d assume), running blind needs people, plenty of people.

  3. Tadhg Says:

    Steve: sure, it would make sense for tracking someone, although it appears that they knew in advance which hotel he’d be at.

    But they seem to have divided the tasks pretty rigorously. For example, apparently they had one person whose entire responsibility was to fly into Dubai, check into the room opposite al-Mabhouh’s, give the key to that room to other members of the team, and then leave the country.

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