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6.17.2010 The Hamas Assassination: A Polish Connection?

By Tristana Moore

As in a tightly plotted thriller, the web of suspicion surrounding the assassination of the Hamas commander Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January continues to spread. As police forces hunt for Al-Mabhouh's killers, Poland is now in the spotlight — and has found itself in the uncomfortable diplomatic position of having to deal with a highly sensitive extradition case.

German prosecutors have confirmed that they are seeking the extradition of a man arrested in Poland on June 4 on suspicion that he was involved in fraudulently obtaining a German passport for a foreign intelligence service. "We're dealing with a real German passport that was used in connection with the Dubai incident," a spokesman for the German federal prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe tells TIME, adding that Germany is focusing on investigating the potentially fraudulent passport and the activities of foreign intelligence rather than the actual killing of Al-Mabhouh, which is being undertaken by the Dubai police with the help of Interpol.

On January 19, Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, a military chief of Hamas and one of the founders of the group's military wing, was murdered at a five-star hotel in Dubai. His death — potentially by drugging and suffocation — sparked international outrage. Police in Dubai blamed the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad and released photographs of more than two dozen members of a suspected hit squad, who allegedly used fake Australian, British, Irish, French and German passports to slip in and out of Dubai. They also released surveillance video of some of the suspected members of the assassination team wearing wigs and fake beards trailing Al-Mabhouh through the Dubai hotel moments before he was killed in his room.

German prosecutors declined to reveal the identity of the suspect Polish police arrested at Warsaw airport. The prosecutor's office in Warsaw confirmed to the Associated Press that a man identified as "Uri B" was picked up on June 4. The German news magazine Der Spiegel has reported that the suspect is an Israeli citizen and alleged Mossad agent. According to Spiegel, the suspect helped another alleged Mossad agent acquire a German passport at a registry office in the city of Cologne in 2009. Dubai police claim a man using that passport was one of the suspects linked to the killing. Back in April, German authorities issued an arrest warrant for the suspect currently detained by Polish police and they now say it's up to Polish officials to decide whether to extradite him.

But that extradition case may not be cut and dry, as it comes with wider political ramifications. Both Poland and Germany have close ties with Israel and the extradition could test relations with Tel Aviv. Two Israeli ministers told the German media on Sunday that Poland should send the suspect back home. "Israel must resist the extradition of one of its citizens to a third country and use all means to ensure that he returns to his home country," the Israeli Transport Minister, Israel Katz said. However, the Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman, Piotr Paszkowski, insisted Warsaw hadn't received any formal extradition request from Israel. (For its part, the prosecutor's office in Warsaw said that prosecutors are now preparing to lodge a formal petition and that a Polish judge will have 40 days to consider the petition.)

Legal experts say that European law requires Poland to meet extradition requests within Europe‹but this case may not fall under that legislation. "Poland and Germany are bound by a European Union framework ruling regarding the European arrest warrant," says Ulrich Preuss, professor of law and politics at Berlin's Hertie School of Governance. "But I have doubts as to whether the particular offences which German prosecutors allege would provide grounds for an extradition under E.U. law."

In a twist in the case, the authorities in Dubai are also reported to be interested in pursuing "Uri B's" extradition to Dubai, rather than Germany. The newspaper Gulf News reported on June 13 that Dubai investigators had contacted the authorities in Poland and Germany and said that police in Dubai would seek "Uri B's" extradition "if he had direct involvement in the murder." German prosecutors say if "Uri B" is extradited to Germany, he faces charges of fraudulently obtaining a passport and involvement in foreign intelligence activities — this could lead to a maximum sentence of five years in prison if proved.

Whatever happens in the "Uri B" case, it's unlikely to solve the riddle of Al-Mabhouh's killing, which remains at the center of a sprawling, international investigation. In March, Interpol issued an alert for 16 more suspects linked to the death, bringing the total number of people sought by Interpol notices to 27. Britain and Australia have expelled Israeli diplomats in protest at the use of forged passports linked to the murder and on June 15 Ireland became the latest country to order the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat from the country's embassy. As European and Australian authorities focus on how their passports may have abetted Al-Mabhouh's killers, and the Dubai police and Interpol continue to search for the killers themselves, it's not clear whether the Polish connection will bring the resolution of this gripping murder mystery any closer to reality.