GAZA, (Reuters) – Security personnel found the body of a pro-Palestinian activist from Italy who was killed and left in an abandoned house in the Gaza Strip following his abduction by militants, a Hamas official said on Friday.
Two men were arrested and others were being sought in the killing of Vittorio Arrigoni, the security official added.
A Jihadist Salafi group in Gaza aligned with al Qaeda had threatened on Thursday to execute Arrigoni by 5 p.m. (1400 GMT) unless their leader, arrested by Hamas last month, was freed.
“A security force entered a house and they found the Italian man’s body, he is dead,” the official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters from the scene.
The Italian Foreign Ministry said consular officials had confirmed the body was that of Arrigoni.
Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction was driven out of Gaza by the Islamist Hamas group in 2007, called Arrigoni’s killing “a dark page in Palestinian history.”
Arrigoni, 36, was pacifist and blogger who had lived in Gaza since August 2008. He arrived on a boat bringing humanitarian supplies which Israel had admitted despite imposing a blockade on the tiny coastal territory.
Italy described his killing as a “barbarous murder” and said it “condemned in the strongest terms the cowardly and irrational action by extremists indifferent to the value of human life.”
Hamas vehemently opposes Salafists who espouse a more extreme form of Islam and appear to be attracting recruits — including from Hamas.
Although it shares al Qaeda’s enmity toward the Jewish state, Hamas has aroused Salafist anger by broaching truces with the militarily superior Israelis and considering political accommodation with secular Palestinian parties.
The Salafists, who see Hamas as insufficiently zealous in enforcing Islamic law, have attacked Internet cafes and want Christians expelled. Palestinian and Israeli political analysts believe some Gaza-based Salafists are foreigners who slipped in through neighboring Egypt.
Ehab 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.
“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 pathologist,” Ghssain said.
The security official at the scene said Arrigoni had been strangled.
Ghssain said the abductors had rented the house where the body was found and had used someone else’s car to try to conceal their identities.
“Their intention from the very beginning was to kill their victim, because the crime took place after a short period of his abduction,” he said.
In a YouTube clip posted earlier by his abductors, Arrigoni was shown blindfolded with blood around his right eye. A hand was 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.”
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 called the Army of Islam. He was released in 2007.
Ghssain said the killing could jeopardize more solidarity missions such as flotillas that have tried to circumvent the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza. International activists plan to sail as many as 15 ships there late next month.