By MARIA ABI-HABIB And CHIP CUMMINS
DUBAI—Dubai police on Wednesday identified 15 new suspects in their probe of the January death of a senior Hamas leader here, and released a mountain of fresh, often-cryptic clues that authorities say they have picked up in the investigation.
The new suspects bring to 26 the number of people Dubai has identified as connected to the alleged murder of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, a senior leader of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group. The new information released Wednesday raises a host of fresh questions, including over the involvement of two U.S. financial companies, one of which has offices in Tel Aviv.
Police officials weren't available to comment. Some of the material was impossible to definitively interpret, and some information appeared contradictory.
In a statement and multimedia presentation on Wednesday, Dubai's government released passport details, flight itineraries and credit-card information related to the 26 suspects. The police said many of them had flown in and out of Dubai several times, one as early as March 2009. At one point in November, police said, nine of the suspects converged on Dubai from several European cities, leaving a few days later.
Dubai police said Wednesday they had identified credit cards used by 14 of the suspects to book hotel rooms and pay for air travel. Police named the issuing bank as MetaBank, a unit of Meta Financial Group Inc., a financial company based in Storm Lake, Iowa.
The bank said it had no comment "because we are trying to confirm the accuracy of statements by the press."
Dubai police identified cards issued by Britain's Nationwide Building Society, IDT Finance of Gilbraltar, and Germany's DZ Bank AG. A Nationwide spokesman told the Associated Press that bank officials were "investigating the reports and have no further comments." The other European companies weren't reachable late Wednesday.
Dubai also identified a company called Payoneer Inc., based in New York, though it wasn't clear what precise role authorities believe that company played. In a chart released to reporters, authorities suggested the company distributed the cards on behalf of MetaBank.
According to its Web site, Payoneer offers online payment solutions, including arranging for employers to pay overseas workers through money transfers into prepaid MasterCard debit-card accounts. Payoneer is based in New York, but has offices in Tel Aviv.
Frequent Fliers: List of Suspects Grows
The company's chief executive, Yuval Tal, appeared as a commentator on the Lebanon war in 2006 on Fox News, identifying himself as a former Israeli special-forces soldier. Mr. Tal wasn't available to comment.
The company is privately held, according to a news release issued by the firm earlier this week. In a statement, tThe company said: "We are aware of the news reports. We are cooperating with the bank and the authorities to explore the matter."
United Arab Emirates officials have contacted U.S. authorities for assistance in the probe, according to a person familiar with the situation. (Dubai is one of seven emirates that make up the U.A.E.) A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi declined to comment.
Dubai police also said, without elaborating, that two suspects flew from Hong Kong to Dubai in August 2009 and left a few days later, via boat. Their destination: Iran.
Last week, Dubai identified 11 holders of European passports as suspects in the case. Dubai released detailed closed-circuit-television footage of 10 men and one woman landing in Dubai's airport and checking into hotels. At one point, two suspects shared an elevator ride with their alleged victim, Mr. Mabhouh, the video showed. Some of the suspects were seen donning wigs and beards and dressing up like tourists, carrying tennis rackets, and impersonating hotel staff.
The 11 initial suspects quickly emerged, saying they were victims of identity theft. Governments in Britain, Ireland, France and Germany said they suspected the passports were issued fraudulently. On Wednesday, Dubai released details about the additional suspects, identifying them as British, Irish, French and Australian passport holders.
A spokesman for Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency, which has been charged with investigating the misuse of British passports, said it was trying to track down the passport holders. So far, it is unclear whether these passports were "genuine," the spokesman said. Ireland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was trying to contact the holders of the passports concerned.
Australia's government said Thursday it believes forged Australian passports were used by several suspects.
"At this stage, Australian officials have no information to suggest the three Australian passport holders were involved in any way, other than as victims of passport or identity fraud," Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told Parliament. "Preliminary analysis by the [Australian Federal Police], together with the Australian passport office, shows that the three Australian passports appear to have been duplicated or altered."
The release of the passport details last week triggered a diplomatic uproar in Europe, with the U.K. promising a full investigation into how its passports were able to be used fraudulently.
Dubai's police chief said last week he was "99%" certain of involvement by the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency. But other U.A.E. officials appear more circumspect. One person familiar with the situation said the focus of the probe is simply to identify and apprehend the suspects caught on video.
Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said earlier this week that there was no evidence linking Israel with the case. And several pieces of information released by Dubai police aren't consistent with Israeli involvement.
Dubai has said it had two Palestinians in custody related to the case. Palestinian officials identified them as former security officials who worked in the Gaza Strip, but who fled when Hamas forcibly took over the territory in 2007. That raised suspicion of involvement by Palestinian rivals of Mr. Mabhouh, or of Hamas itself.
Wednesday's disclosure that two suspects left Dubai in August by boat to Iran is also inconsistent with Israeli involvement. The two countries are bitter enemies.
Still, suspicion has broadly fallen on the Mossad, ever since Mr. Mabhouh's body was found in a Dubai hotel room on Jan. 20. Last week, several European governments called in their Israeli ambassadors to discuss the matter. European government officials have called on Israeli counterparts to disclose any information Israel might have about the case.
European nations have already warned that there will be repercussions for Israel should it be found that the Mossad was responsible for the fraudulent passports. It would echo a previous dispute between Israel and the U.K. In 1987, Britain said it received an apology from Israel over the misuse of forged U.K passports by "Israeli authorities" and that it had received assurances that it wouldn't happen again.—Alistair MacDonald in London, Maria Abi-Habib in Dubai and Rachel Pannett in Canberra contributed to this article.
Write to Chip Cummins at firstname.lastname@example.org