Two surveillance team members follow Al Mabhouh, partially seen on the right, to find out his room number at the Al Bustan hotel. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The wigs, sports gear, moustaches and caps used to disguise the identities of the assassins of Hamas commander Mahmoud Al Mabhouh say little about the assassins except for the amount of secrecy and planning that went into the operation.

Since European officials have confirmed that some of the passports used by the assassins were forged, Dubai Police's hunt for the killers has become all the more difficult. The police have said that the suspects left "no traces to uncover their identities" including fingerprints.

In pictures: Details of prime suspects

The only leads the police have are the faces of the assassins and, perhaps more importantly, the two Palestinian suspects who are being held by the police.

It is however not uncommon for Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, who are suspected to have ordered the assassination, to use Palestinian informants in their operations. The Mossad agents, who often lure informants with incentives of money, drugs or the honour and safety of their families, are likely trained not to reveal any information that could be traced back to them. That is perhaps also the reason that the escape arrangements for the Palestinians differed to those of the rest of the squad.

The two Palestinians are likely to have asked for guarantees of a safe passage out of Dubai, and perhaps feel betrayed by the agents now. If that was part of the plan, there is little the two are expected to know that would be of real value in the investigation.

Disguise objective

It is likely that the assassination squad did prior surveillance in Dubai in planning the assassination, and knew how closely watched movement in the city is. Knowing that, they would have known well that their pictures would be released for the world to see.

Their attempt to nevertheless wear disguises while conducting the operation suggests that the objective was not to hide their identities but perhaps avoid suspicion, specifically from the victim. Some of the other agents did not seem to take extra precautions to look discreet in places where cameras were sure to be watching them.

While Dubai Police said the hit squad used "special communication devices" to contact a possible "command centre" in Austria, Israeli media referred to "European networks" and "European routers". It is unclear what kind of device or networks the reports are referring to but the information obtained by Dubai Police, such as text messages sent by the assassins and their recipient numbers, indicates that the assassins used UAE networks to communicate, which were intercepted. The communication was likely done in code, as the police are not known to have intercepted the content of the communication.

Besides mobile phones, the suspects appear to have used walkie-talkie-like devices, too.

Although Israeli media have suggested that the assassins obtained a key to the victim's hotel room, that seems unlikely according to the information provided by Dubai Police, unless, of course, if the assassins had a master key. This, too, is unlikely since the hotel uses card keys.

The police say that a two-man cell, the "tennis cell" had been trying to determine the room Mabhouh was staying in. The first try in doing so involved [one member] of the cell attempting to hear the receptionist tell the victim his room number. That attempt appeared to have failed, following which the tennis cell, dressed in tennis gear, rushed to enter the elevator with the victim and discreetly followed him to determine his room number.

That information was apparently communicated to the rest of the cells, following which one of the suspects booked the room across from the victim from another Dubai hotel.

Police say that there was evidence of tampering with the card-lock on Al Mabhouh's door and believe that his assassins were either hiding inside his room before his arrival or knocked on his door under a disguise.

The police's best hope now is to extract as much information as possible from the Palestinians that are being held, if at all they have any information that is of value.