By Raissa Kasolowsky and Cynthia Johnston
DUBAI (Reuters) – Dubai is hunting for at least 26 people over the killing of a Hamas commander in a Dubai hotel in a suspected Israeli operation that has caused a diplomatic furor.
Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed last month in his hotel room in what Dubai police say they are near certain was a hit by Israelâ€™s Mossad spy agency.
Dubai police added 15 new names on Wednesday to a list of suspects wanted over the killing. Six carried British passports, three held Irish documents, three were Australian, and three French, the Dubai government said in a statement.
Israeli media reported on Wednesday the new list could involve further cases of identity theft.
Dubai authorities had earlier named 11 suspects, who they said travelled on fraudulent British, Irish, French and German passports to kill Mabhouh. Six were Britons living in Israel who deny involvement and say their identities were stolen.
â€œDubai investigators are not ruling out the possibility of involvement of other people in the murder,â€ the statement said.
The suspected killersâ€™ use of passports from countries including Britain and France has drawn criticism from the European Union. Some of the governments involved have summoned their Israeli ambassadors.
â€œWe will not be silent on this matter. It is a matter of deep concern. It really goes to the integrity and fabric of the use of state documents, which passports are, for other purposes,â€ Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, as his government summoned Israelâ€™s ambassador.
The Dubai statement said: â€œFriendly governments (which) have been assisting in this investigation have indicated to the police in Dubai that the passports were issued in an illegal and fraudulent manner.â€
It said pictures on the passports did not correspond to their original owners.
In a statement on Monday that European diplomats said was intended as a rebuke to Israel, EU foreign ministers said that the assassination was â€œprofoundly disturbing.â€
Israel has not denied or confirmed it played any role but its foreign minister said there was nothing to link it to the killing. The United States, Israelâ€™s main ally, has kept silent about the affair.
Mabhouh, born in the Gaza Strip, had lived in Syria since 1989 and Israeli and Palestinian sources have said he played a key role in smuggling Iranian-funded arms to militants in Gaza.
A Hamas official and Israel have also said he masterminded the capture and killing of two Israeli soldiers during a Palestinian uprising in the 1980s.
Like last week, Dubai police released passport photos and closed-circuit television footage of the new suspects, who police said arrived from cities including Zurich, Paris, Rome, Milan and Hong Kong.
â€œThis was to take the camouflage and deception to its utmost level and to guarantee the avoidance of any security supervision or observation of their movements,â€ the statement said.
Once their part in the operation was completed, the suspects again dispersed to different parts of the world, with two suspects leaving Dubai by boat for Iran, it said.
Dubai police also released credit card details of some of the suspects. At least 13 credit cards used to book hotel rooms and pay for air travel were issued by the same small U.S. lender, MetaBank. The bank declined comment.
â€œMetaBank is declining comment pending a factual review of this matter,â€ it said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
Israelâ€™s Ynet news website said it had tracked down a person with the same name as one of the suspects living in Tel Aviv.
â€œI am in shock from what I just heard. This is an identity theft. I cannot believe it,â€ Adam Marcus Korman, an Australian-born Israeli, told the website.
Several other names listed as suspects by Dubai police were similar to those of people listed in the Israeli telephone directory, including two named as British passport holders. Reuters was not immediately able to contact any of those people.
Two Palestinians suspected of providing logistical support were in detention and Dubaiâ€™s police chief has said he believes the operation could not have been carried out without information from inside Hamas on Mabhouhâ€™s travel details.
An official from the movement was quoted as saying last week that Hamas had launched an investigation to try to discover â€œhow the Mossad was able to carry out the operation.
Mossad is believed to have stepped up covert missions against Hamas and Lebanonâ€™s Hezbollah militia as well as Iranâ€™s nuclear project.
Mabhouhâ€™s killing was the third high profile murder in less than two years in trade and tourism hub Dubai, one of seven emirates in the UAE federation, where violent crime is rare.
(Additional reporting by Rania Oteify in Dubai, Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem, Daniel Wilchins in New York and Rob Taylor in Canberra, Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Matthew Jones)