UAE 'held back full story of hotel assassination'

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Authorities in the United Arab Emirates hesitated for nine days before deciding to reveal details of the assassination of Hamas militant Mahmoud al-Mabouh in a Dubai hotel in January, cables published by WikiLeaks reveal.

The eventual revelation by Dubai police of their suspicions over the killing exploded into a worldwide row which in which Israel stood accused of mounting the operations using copies of passports held by Israeli dual-nationals.

It led to the expulsion by Britain of a senior Israeli intelligence official – widely believed to have been the Mossad station chief – from London in the protest at the agency's clandestine use of the passports of at least 12 British citizens.

The diplomatic cables help to explain for the first time why Dubai police refrained from discussing the case until January 28. The newly released cables also show that the UAE explicitly sought Washington's help in tracking down details of credit cards obtained in the US by members of the hit squad.

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". Police initially described the killers as an "experienced criminal gang" and only later said they were "99 per cent sure" that Mossad was to blame. In one of the cables, US Ambassador to the UAE Richard Olson describes the local authorities' dilemma. "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 sent from the embassy in Dubai establishes that senior UAE officials asked the American ambassador and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to launch urgent enquiries into "cardholder details and related information for credit cards reportedly issued by a US bank to several suspects" in the murder. While there is no evidence the request was acted on in Washington, the embassy asked for it to be processed urgently.