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In Dubai attack, signs of Mossad shadow war

JERUSALEM - The death of a Hamas operative in Dubai at the hands of a squad of burly hit men conjures up images of the string of killings that followed the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and a bungled attempt to poison a Hamas leader in Jordan 13 years ago.

Israel's Mossad spy agency, the prime suspect in the death of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh last month in Dubai, has known both triumph and embarrassment in decades of covert warfare, and the latest episode would appear to include elements of each.

The killers got their man and escaped. But they were caught on video and left behind apparently significant evidence: A Dubai police force that proved competent perhaps beyond the agents' expectations found that at least seven used the names of real Israelis with European passports.

The Mossad is suspected of several violent incidents in the Mideast in recent years, such as the killing of a top Hezbollah officer in the heart of Damascus in 2008. But its reputation, particularly in the Arab world where it is often seen as an ominous force behind unexplained events, goes back decades.

In 1972, a group of armed Palestinians raided the rooms of Israel's Olympic team in Munich, killed two athletes and took another nine hostage. A botched rescue attempt by German police ended in the deaths of all of the Israelis in a wild shootout at a nearby military airfield.

Prime Minister Golda Meir ordered the Mossad to kill those responsible. That directive launched an unprecedented covert offensive that saw a string of Palestinian operatives, many of them not directly connected to the Munich massacre, gunned down or blown up across Europe and the Middle East.

The myth of the Mossad, ruthless and skillful with unlimited resources and reach, was born.

In the Dubai killing last month, closed-circuit TV cameras filmed a member of a surveillance duo whom Dubai authorities identified as an Irish national named Gail Folliard, and who is seen at one point entering a bathroom and emerging with her blond hair concealed under a black wig.

In Dubai Thursday the police chief said he was nearly "100 percent" certain the Mossad directed the alleged hit squad. The case has now spread across several continents with investigators probing possible credit card links to U.S.-based banks and European officials grilling Israeli envoys over fraudulent passports.

Interpol added 11 members of the alleged murder squad to its most-wanted list.

The international fallout showed no signs of easing, with Britain and Ireland summoning Israeli ambassadors for discussions about the rogue passports.

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