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Stranger than fiction

Five international stories from 2010 that read like novels

Palestinians carry a picture of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, one of the founders of Hamas' military wing, as others carry his coffin, left, during his funeral procession at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, Syria, Friday, Jan. 29, 2010. Photo: AP/Bassem Tellawi

1. Professional hit:
In the beginning of 2010 we learned of an elaborate hit-job in a Dubai hotel against Hamas chieftain Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. The killing involved an 11-member hit squad who wore disguises, including fake beards and wigs, and communicated with untraceable cell phones. Dubai’s police issued a statement saying that the Hamas official was killed by a “professional criminal gang.” The hotel released this surveillance video. The alleged assassins used forged European passports and at least half were Israeli nationals. Many speculated that Israeli’s intelligence agency, Mossad, was behind the hit. But Israeli officials had no comment on this one.

Anna Chapman for Maxim. Photo: AP

2. Russian spy ring:

The FBI rounded up 10 Russian spies living in the United States as Americans with false names, identities, homes and families. The story read like a Cold War thriller. The Russian intelligence service, SVR, sent these spies to infiltrate and build relationships in the United States. And that they did. Some are even married with children who had grown up, as Americans, unaware that their parents were Russian spies. Two weeks after the arrest, Russian and American officials agreed to one of the biggest prisoner swaps since the Cold War. The 10 spies were released, and the United States got four men back from Russian prisons.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Photo: Flickr/Rogimmi

3. The premier and the call girl:

This past year brought yet more scandal for Italy’s prime minister. Silvio Berlusconi was allegedly involved with an underaged Moroccan pole dancer, who goes by the name “Ruby Heartthrob.” In May Heartthrob was arrested on charges of theft, and Berlusconi came to her rescue, asking for her release. Heartthrob later gave detailed accounts of wild parties she had attended in Berlusconi’s regal villa. Berlusconi’s response: “I work hard all day long, so if I get a chance to see a beautiful woman, I say it’s better to have passion for beautiful women than being gay.”

4. The secrets:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Photo: AP/Akira Suemori

2010 saw the emergence of Wikileaks and its now notorious founder Julian Assange. After leaking hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. documents, videos and diplomatic cables, Assange is at the center of a tumultuous international debate. Do Assange’s leaks threaten U.S. national security? Or are they acts of transparency detailing what’s really going on in places like Iraq and Afghanistan? And don’t Americans have the right to know the diplomatic gossip: for example, what are our pet names for world leaders? (Russian President Dmitry Medvedev “plays Robin” to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Batman). Add in the sordid sexual conduct alleged against Assange, and there is a spy thriller in the making.

Prince William and Kate Middleton. Photo: AP/Tim Hales

5. The fairytale:

It’s the classic story of boy meets girl. Except this boy is Prince William of Wales, the future king. And the girl? Kate Middleton, his college sweetheart and girlfriend for seven years. Though Middleton has no royal or aristocratic blood she will be the first would-be queen to have graduated college. William presented Middleton with his late mother’s engagement ring. The couple is due to wed April 29, 2011, at Westminister Abbey.