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Dubai's new business: international intrigue

The glitzy city on the Gulf has become a kind of Arabian Big Easy where a senior political operative can be assassinated in a five-star hotel.

Father of senior Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh poses with his son's picture at his family house in the northern Gaza Strip, Jan. 29, 2010. Al-Mabhouh, who played a major role in a Palestinian uprising in the 1980s, was found murdered in Dubai on Jan. 20. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

DUBAI, U.A.E. — In the Middle East, Dubai has replaced Beirut as the place where deals are done, secrets are sold and scores are settled.

The glitzy city on the Gulf has become a kind of Arabian Big Easy where a senior operative in a powerful political organization can be assassinated in a five-star hotel — and the crime will be hushed up for more than a week while the powers-that-be decide how the story will be spun.

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a military commander and arms smuggling specialist with Hamas, was found dead in his room at the swanky Al Bustan Rotana Hotel on Jan. 20. But word of al-Mabhouh’s demise was kept quiet for nine days, until a brief announcement on Friday from the U.A.E. government’s official press agency coincided with his funeral at the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus.

According to the announcement, the assassination was carried out by an “experienced criminal gang, who had been tracking down the movements of the victim before entering the U.A.E.”

Al-Mabhouh arrived in Dubai from Syria on Jan. 19. His body was found in his hotel room less than 24 hours later. By that time, his killers, apparently travelling on European passports, had already fled the country.

“Despite quick skill exhibited by murderers ... they left behind evidence at the scene of [the] crime that would help in tracking them down,” said an unnamed security source quoted in the official statement.

A family member in Gaza told Al Jazeera television on Friday that al-Mabhouh received an electrical shock to the head and was then strangled.

As a senior member of Hamas, al-Mabhouh usually travels under an assumed name and with a detail of body guards. On this trip he traveled under his own name and without body guards, according to Hamas officials.

Dubai police say they now know the identity of the killers and, with the help of Interpol, will quickly bring them to justice.