DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The assassins of a senior Hamas operative used a powerful muscle relaxant to incapacitate him before suffocating him with a pillow in his hotel room, Dubai police said Sunday, in the latest revelations from the slaying local authorities have blamed on Israel.
Police said forensic tests turned up traces of the drug succinylcholine – part of a chemical cocktail used in lethal injections in the U.S. – in the bloodstream of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, whose body was found in his room at a luxury hotel in Dubai on Jan. 20.
Dubai authorities have blamed Israel's Mossad intelligence agency for the slaying in a case that has spread far beyond the Gulf city-state's shores. The investigation's international web now stretches from a bank in the U.S. heartland to European capitals and as far as Australia.
In a statement released Sunday, Dubai's deputy police chief, Maj. Gen. Khamis Mattar al-Mazeina, said al-Mabhouh's killers sedated the Hamas commander before suffocating him to mask their crime.
"The assassins used this method so that it would seem that his death was natural as there were no signs of resistance shown by the victim," al-Mazeina said in the statement.
Local media quoted al-Mazeina as saying Sunday's forensic report confirms al-Mabhouh died of suffocation "using a pillow."
The drug found in al-Mabhouh's bloodstream – succinylcholine – is frequently used by doctors to administer a breathing tube or anesthesia.
Investigators sometimes refer to the drug as an ideal murder weapon because it can often be difficult to trace. It is normally injected into the body, usually directly into a muscle.
In the case of al-Mabhouh, Dubai police said the assassins stuck a syringe into his thigh to administer the drug, Emirates' state-run news agency WAM reported.
Dubai police also said a third Palestinian suspect was in custody. The authorities have identified at least 26 other suspects to the alleged hit squad that traveled to Dubai on fake identities and forged European and Australian passports to kill al-Mabhouh.
Dubai authorities have described the assassination as a mix of clockwork precision with spy novel flare. Some of the suspects donned fake beards or wigs, while others disguised themselves as tourists in tennis outfits with rackets in hand.
Earlier this month, police released footage pulled from closed circuit cameras in Dubai's hotels, shopping malls and airport. The video shows members of the alleged hit team shadowing al-Mabhouh from his arrival at the airport all the way to his hotel room.
The police also released a detailed flow chart-style diagram on the suspects' alleged roles in the slaying, and distributed a map showing the numbers of 17 credit cards allegedly obtained by the suspects from financial institutions in Germany, Britain and the U.S.
At least 15 of the suspected killers share names with Israeli citizens, further fueling suspicions the Mossad was behind the hit.
Israel, however, has maintained a policy of ambiguity on the killing, neither confirming or denying involvement.
On Sunday, the country's trade minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, told Army Radio that while he had no idea who killed al-Mabhouh, the slaying shows Hamas that "none of their people are untouchable, they can all be reached."
The comments from Ben-Eliezer, a former defense minister, were the most direct yet on the by an Israeli official.
He said the results were "immediately translated," claiming that the leader of the Islamic militant group Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, recently disguised himself in a wig on a trip to Syria.
"He understands that eyes are watching him and that is what is important," Ben-Eliezer said.
The minister's claim could not immediately be verified with Hezbollah, but Nasrallah has largely lived in hiding since his group battled Israel to a stalemate during a monthlong war in 2006.
In one of Israel's few comments on the matter, opposition leader Tzipi Livni last week praised al-Mabhouh's death as "good news to those fighting terrorism."
Israel says al-Mabhouh was a major player in smuggling weapons to the Hamas militants that control the Gaza Strip. He was also wanted by Israel for the 1989 abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers on leave.
Associated Press writers Ian Deitch contributed to this report from Jerusalem and Adam Schreck in Dubai.