Mabhouh asked for a suite with sealed windows and no balcony, and was given two white plastic card keys to Room 230, in the back wing of the Rotana hotel. “That will be all,” he said, dismissing the hotel staff member who had escorted him to his room.
He showered, changed, put some documents in the room safe, and exited the hotel – heading to the Dubai Mall to buy some sneakers. A weight lifter in his youth, he would be turning 50 in a few weeks, on Valentine’s Day. Did he also go over to Dubai’s Iranian consulate for a meeting? Unclear. Did he meet anyone? We may never know.
At 8:24 p.m., back at the Rotana, he walked slowly down the second-floor hallway toward his room, catching a quick look at himself in the full-length mirrors running along the walls. He slipped his electronic key in the slot, leaning in ever so slightly on the dark wooden door. Once, twice. On the third try it clicked open.
Standing by the window inside, he might have glanced out at the pool area and the road to the airport beyond and then drawn the burgundy striped curtain. There were no cameras in the room to reveal what happened next. Did he push the beige chair out of its place, against the door, as an added precaution?
But, clearly, he was not alone.
At 8:46, exactly 22 minutes after Mahbouh entered his room, four men left, affixing a “Do not disturb” sign on the doorknob. Half an hour later, Mahbouh’s wife in Damascus rang his cellphone. No one answered.
It wasn’t until a day later, at lunchtime, he was discovered by a cleaner, who called a member of hotel security when she couldn’t get in. The door was somehow latched from the inside. They found Mahbouh under the bedsheets wearing only a pair of black shorts. Forensic tests would show he was suffocated after first being injected in the leg with a muscle relaxant to immobilize him.
Hamas announced that day that their comrade had died of cancer in a hospital in the Emirates. But even at the time, few believed it.