A peace activist has been found hanged in an abandoned house in the Gaza Strip just hours after he was paraded on YouTube by his abductors.
Vittorio Arrigoni, 36, was blindfolded and had been badly beaten before the broadcast. A hand was seen pulling his head up by his hair to face the camera.
The video, posted just hours after the pacifist was kidnapped, sparked a frantic race against time to track him down before he was killed.
But though Hamas security forces quickly
received a tip-off about his whereabouts in Gaza’s Sheikh Rudawan
district, they arrived too late to save him.
PIECE activist: Vittorio Arrigoni – bloodied and bound – in a screengrab from the Jihadist’s YouTube video
Abandoned: Hamas officials guard the house in the Al Karama area of Gaza City where Mr Arrigoni’s body was found
Mr Arrigoni, an Italian, was found lying in a corridor in the deserted house. He was dressed in black, in the same clothes he had been wearing in the video.
‘It was hard to see him unless
someone told you he was there because he was laid against the wall on
the floor,’ a witness who had been at the scene said.
‘There was no sign he was shot. It is believed he was either hanged then laid down, or strangled on the ground.’
Murdered: Mr Arrigoni’s body was found abandoned in a corridor
Mr Arrigoni had lived in Gaza since August 2008 after arriving on a boat bringing humanitarian supplies.
was abducted by an Al Qaeda-linked Jihadist group, who were attempting
to put pressure on Hamas, which runs the enclave, to release its leader
the Arabic text that accompanied the YouTube video, his kidnappers
described Italy as ‘the infidel state’ and said that Mr Arrigoni had
‘entered our land only to spread corruption.’
though they demanded the release of their al-Sa’eedni, the group – who
call themselves Monotheism and Holy War – gave Hamas no time to hand him
they executed their hostage, who helped Gaza fishermen deal with
Israel’s tight maritime blockade, and left his body for the security
forces to find.
Two men have been arrested and others are being sought.
scene of the killing in Gaza’s Sheikh Rudawan neighbourhood was very
tense. The house where the hostage was killed was still cordoned off as
investigations continued. cordoned off the house.
Mt Arrigoni’s abduction and killing has shocked the stricken region, inured as it is
to clashes between Hamas fighters and Israeli forces.
was about to cry when I heard the news. That man quit his family for
us, for Gaza, and now Gazans killed him. That was so bad,’ said
supermarket owner Abu Ahmed.
Samira Ali, a teacher, said: ‘Those who killed him are not Muslims and certainly not Palestinians.’
Silvia Todeschini, a friend and fellow member of the International Solidarity Movement, worked with Arrigoni in Gaza.
‘Victor (Vittorio) worked with the Palestinians, he worked for the Palestinians,’ she said.
worked with fishermen, he accompanied fishermen when they were going to
fish, in non-violent interpositions on the maritime limit imposed by
the Israeli navy.
Kill me too: Palestinians and foreign activists carry banners through Ramallah after they heard of Arrigoni’s murder
Anger: A protester holds a banner condemning the killing of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza
Popular: Palestinians carry a symbolic coffin decorated with the Italian flag during a ceremony to mourn and denounce the kidnapping and killing Mr Arrigoni
‘He used to work with farmers when
they used to go to cultivate their lands near the buffer zone with
Israel, the scene of many shooting incidents over the past four years.’
Todeschini said activist friends did not believe it when they were told police had found the body of Arrigoni.
WELL KNOWN AND WELL LIKED, THE ACTIVIST WITH A PIPE AND A BERET
A peace activist, blogger and occasional freelance journalist, Arrigoni was a well-known figure in Gaza – and well-liked.
He was frequently seen clenching a pipe between his teeth and wearing a beret in a likeness to Che Guevara, as well as bracelets in the red, black, green and white colors of the Palestinian flag.
Arrigoni was an outspoken critic of Israel, but in an interview in 2008 he also also criticised Muslim extremists for trying to impose a hardline version of Islam in Gaza.
He noted the increase in the number of Gazan women wearing Islamic face veils and the fact that young women were barred from participating in public life.
Arrigoni had come to Gaza as a pro-Palestinian activist and worked with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which operates in the West Bank and Gaza
In 2003, an American ISM activist, Rachel Corrie, was crushed by an Israeli military bulldozer in a combat zone in southern Gaza while trying to block its path.
A British activist with the group was fatally shot by an Israeli soldier in the same area that year. A third ISM activist, a Palestinian, was shot and killed by Palestinian militants in the West Bank town of Jenin in 2007.
‘At the beginning we did not believe it, we thought it was just a joke. But then we saw the video and we believed it.’
‘We really know that most of the
Palestinians are not murderers and that they understand that we are here
working for them,’ she said.
Arrigoni was the first foreign
national to be abducted in Gaza since BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who
was held for 114 days by an al Qaeda-inspired group named the Army of
Islam. He was released in 2007.
Al-Ghssain, spokesman for the Hamas Interior Ministry, told a news
conference the arrest and questioning of one of the group had led to the
discovery of where Arrigoni was being held.
said: ‘The forces moved quickly and wisely to the place but found that
the abducted man was killed hours earlier in an ugly manner, according
to the pathologists.’
claimed the abductors recently had rented the house where the body was
found and had used someone else’s car to try to conceal their
‘Their intention from the very beginning was to kill their victim,
because the crime took place after a short period of his abduction,’ he
Ghssain said the killing could
jeopardise more solidarity missions such as flotillas that have tried to
run the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza.
International activists plan to sail as many as 15 ships there late next month.
said those responsible for Arrigoni’s death had served Israel’s
intentions by ‘trying to terrorise the people who support the
Palestinian people in Gaza.’
Rome, the Italian Foreign Ministry condemned what it called a ‘barbaric
murder’ and a ‘vile and irrational gesture of violence on the part of
extremists indifferent to the value of a human life.’
were not allowed to see the body in the morgue and could not
independently confirm the cause of death given by Hamas. An Italian
doctor was on his way from Israel to examine the body, officials said.
vehemently opposes Salafists who espouse a more extreme form of Islam
and appear to be attracting recruits – including members of Hamas.
it shares al Qaeda’s enmity toward the Jewish state, Hamas has provoked
Salafist anger by forging truces with the Israelis and considering
political deals with secular Palestinian parties.
Salafists, who see Hamas as insufficiently zealous in enforcing Islamic
law, have also attacked Internet cafes and want Christians expelled
and Israeli analysts believe some Gaza-based Salafists are foreigners
who slipped in through the neighbouring Egyptian Sinai.
HAMAS, ITS RIVALS AND THE INSTABILITY OF GAZA
There are half a dozen radical Islamist groups in Gaza with membership numbering in the hundreds. The differences between them are unclear.
Some analysts believe they work in cells to evade Hamas pressure. All want to end Western influence and establish an Islamic state across the Middle East.
Hamas wants a Palestinian state, albeit an Islamic one. It has largely refrained from imposing Islamic law since taking control of Gaza in 2007 and has also condemned al Qaeda attacks in Western cities.
Shock: Friends of Mr Arrigoni’s at the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) office in Gaza City were also deeply distressed by his death
Distraught: Friends of Mr Arrigoni
mourn at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza city after hearing of his death
Hamas, with some 25,000 men under arms, has said its more radical rivals are simply misguided offered them ‘re-education’.
Palestinian analyst Hani Masri said it was premature to say Hamas has lost control of Gaza.
‘Such incidents can happen anywhere,’ he said. But this would have an impact on Hamas.
‘If Hamas is trying to show an image of moderation and could not get something in return from the international community, this will leave a vacuum for more radical groups, even within Hamas itself,’ Masri said.
George Giacaman, political analyst at Birzeit University in the West Bank, saw Arrigoni’s murder as ‘a tremendous challenge for the authority of Hamas … a huge embarrassment for them’.
The movement, armed by Iran and shunned as a terrorist organisation by the West, is trying ‘to make their authority in Gaza acceptable for the Arabs and foreign countries’, he said.
It had succeeded to a certain extent in stopping the firing of rockets and mortars into Israel over the past two years, and it would now be most intent on restoring control with rigour.
But there were risks attached to that course, he said.
Hamas forces in August 2009 killed 28 people, mostly Salafis, in the storming of a mosque where a radical cleric who supported al Qaeda surrounded himself with armed men and declared an Islamic emirate.
‘They cannot do that every day,’ Giacaman said.