Al Qaeda-Gaza abducts and murders Italian pacifist
Al-Tahwir Al-Jihad, the biggest Al Qaeda group based in the Gaza Strip, murdered Italian peace activist Vittorio Arrigoni Thursday, April 14, shortly after they kidnapped him – although Hamas was given until 5 p.m. Friday to release its leader in exchange for Arrigoni. It is the first time any member of Al Qaeda's Jalalat movement of the Gaza Strip has executed a Western citizen and attests to the extremists' growing potency. In the past year, the organization was boosted by hundreds of experienced al Qaeda terrorists from Iraq and Yemen who reached the Gaza Strip through Sinai.
Vittorio Arrigoni was a familiar figure in the Gaza Strip, having arrived on one of the ships aimed at breaking the Gaza blockade three years ago and settled there. He continued to help pro-Palestinian groups in the West organize anti-blockade flotillas. He was also trusted by the radical Palestinian Hamas leadership for assignments with various bodies in the West, moving in and out of Gaza through Egypt on his Italian passport.
Al-Tahwir Al-Jihad expected Hamas to release its leader, Hisham Saidani, who was arrested earlier this week without delay. They counted on Hamas being anxious to avoid the risk of allowing a Western hostage to be executed in the Gaza Strip on their watch.
The kidnappers signed their ultimatum "The Mohammed Bin Moslama Brigades," a designation never before used by the Gaza-based al Qaeda group. When Hamas appeared to hesitate to meet their demands, they murdered their victim, most probably three hours after he was abducted. The photos of Arrigoni released Thursday show him held up by his captors, his face covered in blood and his eyes blindfolded. He appeared to be lifeless. The autopsy Friday morning confirmed he had died while being tortured.
His abductors apparently suspected the Italian of working undercover for Western agencies to spy on their operations and tortured him to extract a confession. They photographed his body and then gave Hamas the ultimatum.
After his body was discovered in a derelict building, Hamas claimed its special forces had located the place where he was held and his captors had cut short their rescue operation by killing him. The truth was that an anonymous tip-off to the Gaza police shortly after midnight Thursday told them where to find the body.
Early Friday, the Gaza Interior Ministry called a news conference for Hamas spokesmen to denounce the "criminal murder" and deny it represented their "values, religion and customs." Some of the kidnappers had been arrested, they said, and the others were being hunted down.
Contrary to the impression Hamas seeks to convey that it is fighting Al Qaeda organizations in Gaza, debkafile's counter-terror sources report that they co-exist amicably after reaching a quiet understanding.
The Hamas rulers promised to leave them alone so long as they stay inside agreed areas operations and keep to their strongholds in the suburbs of Khan Youes, Deir Balakh and Gaza City which are off-limits to outsiders, including Hamas security personnel.
Al Qaeda also pledged to refrain from recruiting in the Gaza Strip after receiving a fresh intake from Iraq and Yemen, to which Hamas did not object.
debkafile's sources add that both Hamas and the pro-Iranian Jihad Islami use experienced Al Qaeda fighters in the more dangerous attempts to breach the Gaza-Israeli border fence for attacks on Israeli military patrols and gathering intelligence on the Israeli side of the border. Hamas is also deeply involved in al Qaeda's arms smuggling networks in Sinai, Egypt and Sudan.