Mystery Man Arrested in Poland May Have Aided Alleged Mossad Hit Team

Mourners pray over the coffin of Mahmud al-Mabhouh, draped in the flag of Hamas, during his funeral in the outskirts of Damascus in January 2010 shortly after his assassination at a Dubai hotel Louai Beshara / AFP-Getty Images

European investigators believe that a man arrested by Polish authorities earlier this month may be a key fixer in Europe for Israel's Mossad spy agency. The man, who a European official said was arrested at Warsaw airport when trying to enter Poland on June 4, was using an Israeli passport in the name of Uri Brodsky. A second European official familiar with the inquiry said investigators believe Brodsky is not the suspect's real name and that his true identity remains a mystery.

The European official familiar with the investigation, who like others cited in this story requested anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said investigators believe that Brodsky helped to get a false passport for at least one of the suspected Mossad agents who allegedly carried out the Jan. 19 assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior official of the Palestinian militant movement Hamas, in Dubai. The official said that Brodsky himself may not have gone to Dubai to participate in what is now regarded by many of the world's spy services as a major Mossad fiasco. Rather, investigators believe that Brodsky's role was to help a man who went to Dubai using a German passport in the name of Michael Bodenheimer. Brodsky allegedly helped to obtain the Bodenheimer passport from authorities in Cologne, using what authorities now believe to be fraudulent German and Israeli documentation.

According to an account in the German magazine Der Spiegel, whose details were confirmed to Declassified by a European official, both Brodsky and Bodenheimer visited a Cologne lawyer in March of last year seeking the lawyer's help in obtaining a German passport. (At the time, Brodsky was using a different identity, Alexander Verein.) They were able to do so under a law that allows such documents to be granted to descendants of Germans who had fled abroad to avoid the Holocaust. During the meeting with the lawyer, Der Spiegel reports, Brodsky rather than Bodenheimer did most of the talking. Based on an application and documentation supplied by the Cologne attorney—reportedly including an Israeli passport and a marriage certificate showing his parents were German citizens—authorities issued Bodenheimer a new German passport a few weeks later.

Following the mysterious death of Mabhouh in his luxury hotel room, authorities in Dubai published photographs and identifying information on 26 people who, as a team, had allegedly tracked and killed the Hamas representative. Identity papers used by the suspected killers included Bodenheimer's German passport, as well as passports purported to have been issued by France, Britain, Ireland, and Australia. While German authorities now believe that the Bodenheimer document was a genuine passport issued under false pretenses, officials in Britain, Ireland, and Australia have indicated that they believe the passports from their countries used by hit-squad suspects were forgeries. In the last few days, authorities in both Australia and Ireland have expelled Israeli diplomats in connection with the case; as we reported here, Britain expelled an Israeli diplomat, who European officials said was a Mossad officer, in March. The Israeli government has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the killing of Mabhouh, though supporters of Israel have condemned him as a facilitator of arms shipments between Iran and Hamas.

The European official familiar with the investigation into Brodsky and Bodenheimer said that Polish security officers detained Brodsky following a tip from German authorities, who now want him extradited to face passport-fraud charges. The official indicated that German authorities were on to Brodsky because, while using the Verein identity, he apparently allowed information on his whereabouts or movements to be recorded, which was later found in German government records. The official said that while Brodsky was believed to be a high-level and experienced "facilitator" for Mossad based in Europe, Bodenheimer was a large man who investigators believe was probably part of the "muscle" for the suspected Israeli hit team. Investigators now believe that the fake Bodenheimer stole his identity from a real Michael Bodenheimer, who emigrated to Israel from the U.S., and who denied to the Israeli media ever applying for a German passport.

Official and unofficial spy aficionados are still puzzled over why Israel would ruin its previously friendly relationship with authorities in a key Gulf emirate, and blow the identities of so many undercover operatives, just to eliminate an obscure Hamas operative. One theory gaining support among intelligence experts is that Mossad's intent was to drug and kidnap Mabhouh, and then try to use him in a trade for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held hostage in Gaza by Hamas. But the Israelis, according to this theory, may have overdosed their target on knockout drops.

European and Israeli media reports quoted Brodsky's Polish lawyer saying that his client was a victim of mistaken identity. Der Spiegel quoted two Israeli ministers saying that their government would do its utmost to ensure that Brodsky is not extradited to Germany but allowed to return to Israel. A representative of Israel's embassy in Washington told Declassified that it had no comment on the latest developments in Poland and Germany.