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DUBAI: In fallout from Mabhouh assassination, Australia says passport abuse is 'not the act of a friend'

February 25, 2010 | 10:21 am

Picture 46 Israel continues to come under fire at home and abroad as more details have emerged linking the identities of binational Israelis to the assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai last month.

The suspected 26-person hit team now includes three individuals using allegedly fake Australian passports, sparking outrage among Australians, whose international standing allows them to travel freely to many countries -- even Iran -- that are hostile to other Westerners.

"We will not be silent on this matter," Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told local news media. "Any state that has been complicit in use or abuse of the Australian passport system, let alone for the conduct of an assassination, is treating Australia with contempt, and there will therefore be action by the Australian government in response."

The Israeli ambassador to Australia was promptly summoned and reportedly warned that the Australian government expects Israel's full cooperation in the investigation.

“I made it crystal clear to the [Israeli ambassador] that if the results of that investigation cause us to come to the conclusion that the abuse of Australian passports was in any way sponsored or condoned by Israeli officials, then Australia would not regard that as the act of a friend," Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was quoted saying by The Australian newspaper.

Picture 45 The parents of two of the three Australians whose names appear on the passports say their children are the victims are identity theft.

Nicole Sandra McCabe, Joshua Daniel Bruce and Adam Korman, whose names were linked to the passports, all reside in Israel.

The Australian also interviewed a Palestinian representative to Australia who claims the government ignored his warnings in 2004 that the Mossad, Israel's spy agency, was trying to obtain Australian passports.

That same year, New Zealand police arrested two suspected Mossad agents after a botched attempt to obtain a passport using the personal information of an individual who was wheelchair-bound with cerebral palsy. New Zealand severed high-level diplomatic ties with the Israeli government until it apologized a year later.

Meanwhile, the Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, told Al Jazeera that the number of allegedly tampered or forged foreign travel documents involved casts doubts on the countries linked to those documents.

Picture 47"Either they were cooperating with the Mossad, or else they were exposed to a dangerous breach of security," he said. "This matter calls for a full investigation and an apology to the Palestinian people for the assassination of Mabhouh.”

But according to a confidant of Mabhouh, the Hamas operative himself used several fake passports from different Arab countries and often changed his appearance, even undergoing plastic surgery to make his nose narrower.

"He used to wear colored contact lenses and dye his hair when traveling to European countries," said the confidant, who told Reuters he spent two years in exile with Mabhouh.

"He used to supply money and arms to Hamas and other allied factions," he added.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photos: Three of the passports used in the operation. The Australian government says they appear to be altered or fake. Credit: Dubai police