'Fake identity' Brits warned that their lives are in danger

A former Mossad colonel says revenge attacks on the six real passport holders could be on the cards

The lives of the six British citizens whose identities were stolen by a Mossad assassination team are in danger, and they should not even consider leaving their homes in Israel for at least two years, a former senior officer in the Israeli intelligence agency warned yesterday. The British relatives of those whose passports were used by Mossad should also be aware of the risk of revenge attacks for the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, one of the founders of Hamas's military wing, in Dubai last month, he added.

Victor Ostrovsky, a former colonel in Mossad, said: "If they go outside the country, why wouldn't they be a target? For Hamas, just to send a message."

A lieutenant commander in the Israeli navy before being recruited by Mossad, the former agent and author of The Other Side of Deception – which the Israeli government tried to ban in the 1990s – said the men should not try to travel abroad: "They're safe so to speak, until somebody kills them. I would tell them: do not travel outside the country for at least two years, under any circumstances."

Six of the passports used by the 11 suspected assassins used the identities of men with dual British and Israeli citizenship. Three Irish passports were also used, along with one French and one German passport.

Michael Barney, 54, one of those whose details were used, said this weekend: "I'm very angry, I'm very upset: it's quite frightening."

Another member of the six, Paul Keeley, 42, admitted last week: "I'm afraid for my life." His father, John, said that it was "out of order" that his son's name had been released and added: "Having his name bandied around like this is just crazy."

Another of those named, James Clarke, 47, has apparently disappeared over the past few days. Residents of the Givat-Hashlosha kibbutz in central Israel believe he has gone into hiding, according to Israeli media reports.

Israel has also put its own citizens at risk of becoming targets, Mr Ostrovsky claimed. "The Arab world is inclined to believe any kind of rumour or myth, so there's really not a lot to stop people from saying, 'Yes, well, they're saying they didn't agree [for their passports to be used], but in fact they're probably Mossad people who gave their permission, and if they are, they're legitimate targets or their families are' – and me saying that doesn't actually make it happen, but what it does is maybe say to people: watch out because that's what they're thinking."

He slammed the "amateurish" style of the operation, saying it reflected the "internal arrogance of an agency that has no checks and balances". As an insight into the attitudes of the assassins, he said: "In their opinion they killed a really bad guy. So why would anybody care?"

The blunders that enabled the Dubai police to produce footage and pictures of the suspects were the result of a rushed operation, claimed Mr Ostrovsky: "This large number of people involved is absolute proof of the urgency of what happened, because you don't need as many people if you have time to plan."

The assassins would have been pulled in from other operations in Europe, and intelligence services are now examining travel movements in the six months before the killing, which is when the faked passports were first used, according to the former spy. The pictures of the suspects have also compromised other missions and have done "phenomenal" damage to Israeli intelligence, he said.

It also emerged yesterday that the Dubai police are now investigating credit card accounts used to purchase the plane tickets for the hit squad, with the chief of police, Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan, having called for Interpol to put out an arrest warrant for the head of Mossad if Israel is found to be behind the killing.

Diplomatic tensions are now building, with the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, branding the use of the passports as "an outrage". He will come face to face with the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, at a meeting in Brussels tomorrow, when Mr Miliband will demand full cooperation with Britain's investigation into the forged passports.

This is not the first time Mossad has been caught using foreign passports, with a string of documented incidents stretching back decades.

Nevertheless, he said, Mossad's "passport factory" capable of creating foreign identities for its agents, is not the only intelligence agency to use foreign passports. "Working under a foreign flag has not been invented by Israelis. I'm sure a lot of British MI6 people have been everything but Israeli."

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