Italian activist killed by al-Qaida cell in Gaza City

Vittorio Arigoni found strangled in abandoned house; Erekat calls killing "dark page in Palestinian history"; Hamas says intention was to kill.

Hamas terrorists 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas terrorists 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni was discovered dead in an abandoned house in Gaza City on Friday morning.
Hamas announced on Saturday that its security forces had arrested two men in connection with the kidnapping/ murder.
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The case is seen as one of the most serious challenges to Hamas since it took full control over the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007.
Arrigoni, who had been living in the Gaza Strip for three years, is the first foreign national to be kidnapped and murdered under Hamas, which has prided itself on its success in ending the state of anarchy and lawlessness that prevailed when the Palestinian Authority ruled the Strip.
The Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry said that efforts were under way to capture other suspects in the case.
Hamas did not name the suspects, or say to which group they belonged.
Sources in the Gaza Strip, however, said the suspects were part of an al-Qaida cell called Tawheed wal-Jihad.
The suspects apparently received instructions to murder the Italian man through the Internet, the sources said.
Several Hamas and Fatah websites tried over the weekend to hold Israel responsible, saying they did not rule out the possibility that the murder was aimed at foiling a protest flotilla that is expected to head to the Gaza Strip in the coming days.
Arrigoni’s kidnappers released a video on Thursday in which he appeared alive, but badly beaten and bloodied.
The kidnappers demanded the release of the leader of Tawheed wal-Jihad, Hisham Saidani, who was arrested by Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip last month.
The kidnappers threatened to execute Arrigoni if their leader was not released by 5 p.m. on Friday.
A suspect arrested by Hamas security forces a few hours after the abduction is believed to have led investigators to the house where the Italian activist had been strangled.
The group that had originally claimed responsibility for the murder of Arrigoni later backtracked and denied any link to the case.
One of the leaders of the group, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, told Palestinian journalists that he “strongly condemned the murder, which does not reflect our group’s policy in any way or serve its interests.”
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh also condemned the murder of Arrigoni, who was a member of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement.
Haniyeh phoned Arrigoni’s mother on Saturday and told her that his government would do its utmost to lay its hands on the perpetrators and bring them to trial.
Haniyeh revealed that Arrigoni had been killed before the expiration of the deadline set by his kidnappers, saying this proved their only intention was to kill the activist.
“This crime does notexpress the values and morals of the Palestinians,” Haniyeh said. “Nor does it express our people’s nobility, culture and shining history.”
PA President Mahmoud Abbas also condemned the murder and ordered the PA prosecutor-general to open an investigation.
Abbas’s legal adviser, Hassan al- Oury, said those responsible would be charged with “high treason,” a crime punishable by death according to PA laws.
Oury described the slain Italian activist as a “staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause and one of the freedom fighters who defended the liberty and independence of the Palestinian people.”
Arrigoni was a Palestinian soldier who was killed on the battlefield, the adviser said.
Residents of the small town near Milan from which Arrigoni hailed expressed “dismay and sorrow” over his slaying.
Tattooed on his arms and with an eyebrow stud, Arrigoni came from Bulciago, a quiet town of some 2,700 inhabitants about 35 km. north of Milan. Egidia Arrigoni, the mother of the slain man, is mayor of Bulciago.
He had been in the Palestinian territories on and off for a decade.
The 36-year-old, who often wore a black worker’s cap, identified himself as one of a community who, unlike “governments complicit with the Zionist Israeli government, are ready to devote their lives to come to embrace their brothers in Gaza.”
Egidia Beretta, whom Arrigoni telephoned regularly, said they had spoken a few days earlier.
“It was calm, we talked about what he was up to, what was happening in our family. He was planning his return,” she told Italian television.
Town councilor Raffaella Purricelli said Bulciago residents had been very upset by news of the abduction and killing, and a public meeting was planned for later on Friday.
“There is dismay and sorrow for Vittorio,” he told Reuters. “Bulciago is a simple town, where solidarity toward the needy is very important. We share what Vittorio used to say, ‘Stay human,’” he said.
Arrigoni was a committed supporter of Palestinians and a strong critic of Israeli policy.
“I remember that day as one of the happiest and most emotional of my life,” he said in an interview posted on YouTube, in which he described arriving in Gaza on a boat from the Free Gaza Movement.
He was among a group of activists from Europe and the United States who reactivated the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement and had worked closely with Gazan fishermen and farmers.
On Friday, his body was recovered in an abandoned house in the Gaza Strip after his abduction by terrorists from the jihadist Salafi group the day before.
“Yesterday when we received the news, at the beginning we did not believe it. We thought it was just a joke, but then we saw the video, we believed it,” said Silvia Todeschini, a fellow Italian and activist.
“They brought us to the body and we said yes, it was him. Vittorio was here for the Palestinian people, and they killed somebody who was here for them.”

Reuters contributed to this report.