AN Italian pro-Palestinian activist has been hanged by a radical group in Gaza linked to al-Qa'ida after he was taken hostage -- the first such kidnapping of a foreigner since the BBC reporter Alan Johnston in 2007.
Vittorio Arrigoni, who had lived in Gaza for three years, was seized by an armed gang after leaving a gym on Thursday.
The captors made a video of Mr Arrigoni and demanded the release of two of their leaders from a Hamas prison.
His body was found yesterday morning when police stormed an apartment in Gaza City where Mr Arrigoni (36) was being held by members of a small Islamic group.
Mr Arrigoni was dead and the apartment was otherwise empty, the officials said. A statement by police said his body had "signs of strangulation and hanging around his neck," as well as marks of handcuffs on his hands.
The Islamic group, calling itself Monotheism and Holy War, had released a YouTube video on Thursday showing the kidnapped activist blindfolded and with cuts on his face, held in front of the camera by a fist gripping his hair. The group demanded that Hamas free its leader and two other jailed members and said it would execute the captive if the demand was not met.
Despite the video, the group released a statement yesterday denying it was responsible for Mr Arrigoni's death.
Arrigoni came to Gaza as a pro-Palestinian activist in 2008. According to a press release from his organisation, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), he had been "monitoring human rights violations by Israel, supporting the Palestinian popular resistance against the Israeli occupation and disseminating information about the situation in Gaza to his home country of Italy". Kidnappings of foreigners in Gaza took place with some regularity before Hamas took control of the territory in 2007. All were eventually released unharmed. There had been no abductions since Hamas took power.
Huweida Arraf, of the ISM, condemned Mr Arrigoni's "senseless killing".
"Vittorio was really loved in Gaza," she said. "I didn't think there was even a 1pc chance they would kill him. It was a complete shock."
Hamas said two people were arrested in another location in connection with the killing, and a third was being sought.
The previously unknown Salafist group behind the hanging, The Brigade of the Gallant Companion of the Prophet Mohammed bin Muslima, was described as a front for Tawheed and Jihad, a fundamentalist organisation that had been active in Gaza, Jordan and Iraq since 2004.
The Italian foreign ministry described the killing as a "barbaric murder". (© Daily Telegraph, London)