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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Canada, UAE clash over mystery Mabhouh assassin

October 20, 2010 |  8:12 am

Mabhouh elevator

There is a diplomatic storm brewing between Canada and the United Arab Emirates, and the latest twist involves a mystery assassin.

On Tuesday, Dubai's chief of police, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan, slammed Canadian authorities for allegedly dragging their feet in investigating a suspect in their custody who had been linked to the asssassination of a Hamas official in Dubai in January.

But on Wednesday, the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail quote unnamed Canadian officials denying that Canada had made such an arrest and calling the Emirati assertion "baseless."

The current spat is set against a background of heightened tensions between the formerly friendly countries following Canada's refusal to grant the Emirates' two main airlines, Etihad and Emirates, increased access to its airports. Shortly after, the Emirates shut down what had been a secret Canadian air base, nicknamed "Camp Mirage," on its soil in what was widely viewed as a retaliatory measure.

An editorial in the Abu Dhabi-based National newspaper praised the UAE's "new assertiveness" on the international stage, insinuating that the root of the current problems between the two countries lay in Canada's unsportsmanlike use of "security concerns" as an excuse to eliminate competition from Emirati companies.

Khalfan was certainly assertive, calling on Canadian authorities to cooperate with the Emirates "transparently, in good faith and quickly" in the matter of the slaying suspect.

The suspect Khalfan asserts is in Canadian custody is allegedly among a team of 27 agents traveling on forged Western passports who killed Hamas official Mahmoud Mabhouh in his Dubai hotel room in January. Israel is widely thought to be behind the assassination.

In the weeks and months following Mabhouh's death, the investigation turned into an international media circus, with Khalfan playing the gleeful ringmaster, releasing a slow and steady stream of embarrassing video evidence showing the alleged assassins in homemade disguises with wigs, sunglasses and tennis rackets.

Even the Israeli public seemed to find some comedy in it, inspiring spoof advertisements and "Dubai assassins" costumes for the Jewish Purim holiday.

Not everyone found it funnny, however. Britain and others expelled Israeli diplomats over the incident, and a number of countries expressed outrage at the use of their passports in the killing.

The suspect in Canadian custody, if he indeed exists, would be only the second arrest in the case. Uri Brodsky, the first, was arrested in Poland on a German warrant in June.

According to Khalfan, the Canadian embassador to the Emirates shared news of the arrest with local authorities but asked that the information not be made public. It was unclear when this exchange took place, and Canadian authorities, officially, have neither confirmed nor denied it.

"What is so secret that this news cannot be published?" Khalfan told local press (Arabic link), expressing shock at what he described as "an attempt to stall and cover up the matter on the Canadian side."

According to Khalfan, the suspect in Canadian custody is thought to be part of the preparation team that helped set up the operation but left the country before the actual assassination was carried out. He was allegedly linked by a phone call made to the man in white sportswear seen on hotel security cameras getting out of an elevator with Mabhouh.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: In the weeks following Mabhouh's killing, Dubai police made a show of releasing evidence such as security video showing the alleged assassins following Mabhouh out of the elevator dressed in tennis gear. Credit: Dubai police / AFP