Gaza Salafis kill Italian activist


A Jihadist Salafi group killed an Italian activist after kidnapping him and then abandoned his dead body in a house in the Gaza Strip, a Hamas security official said Friday.

“The Italian was killed by suffocation, and his body was found in a street of the city of Gaza,” a spokesman for the Islamist movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, told Agence-France Press.

Two men were arrested and others were being sought in the killing of Vittorio Arrigoni, an activist with a pro-Palestinian group called the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), who was also working as a journalist and writer, the security official added.

In a video posted on the YouTube on Thursday, the al-Qaeda-linked armed group had threatened to execute Mr. Arrigoni by 1700 local time (1400 GMT) unless their leader, Abul Waleed al-Maqdessy, arrested by Hamas last month, was freed, according to Reuters.

In the clip, Mr. Arrigoni was shown blindfolded with blood around his right eye and a hand could be seen pulling his head up by his hair to face the camera.

The accompanying Arabic text said: “The Italian hostage entered our land only to spread corruption.” It described Italy as “the infidel state.”

The kidnappers identified themselves in the video as belonging to a previously unknown group called The Brigade of the Gallant Companion of the Prophet Mohammed bin Muslima.

Mr. Arrigoni had lived in the Gaza Strip since August 2008. He arrived on a boat bringing humanitarian supplies that Israel, which enforces a blockade on the tiny coastal territory, allowed into Gaza port.

The Italian victim was the first foreign national to be abducted in the Gaza Strip since BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who was held for 114 days by an al-Qaeda-inspired group named the Army of Islam. Mr. Johnston was released in 2007.

Gaza, one of the most densely populated tracts of land in the world, is home to about 1.3 million Palestinians, about 33 percent of whom live in United Nations-funded refugee camps.

Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the coastal enclave, vehemently opposes Salafis. They espouse an extreme form of Islam and appear to be attracting recruits, including from Hamas, and from among those unhappy with a failure to impose Sharia (Islamic law). Recruits also seem to be coming from a cohort of those unhappy with Hamas's policy of restraint against Israel.

The Salafis also have attacked Internet cafes and want Christians expelled.

In Rome, the Italian foreign ministry said it had been informed by its consulate in Jerusalem of Mr. Arrigoni’s kidnapping and had “already taken the opportune steps to intervene to protect him,” according to AFP.

A statement added that Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy was following the matter closely and that a crisis unit at the ministry was in contact with Mr. Arrigoni’s family.

(Abeer Tayel of Al Arabiya can be reached via email at: [email protected])