Two Gaza policemen amongst four sentenced for Arrigoni murder
Ibrahim Barzak, AP/Arab News
September 17, 2012
GAZA CITY– A Hamas court convicted four men on Monday of last year’s kidnapping and killing of a pro-Palestinian Italian activist in Gaza, sentencing two of the defendants to 35 years in prison, a judicial official said.
Vittorio Arrigoni was kidnapped and strangled to death in March 2011 by hard-line Islamic extremists. The body of the 36-year-old, who had been living in Gaza since 2008, was found a day after he was kidnapped and after a video showing him beaten and blindfolded surfaced online.
The killing was the first such incident in Gaza since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized the coastal territory in 2007.
Two of the defendants — 28-year-old Mahmoud Al-Salfiti and 27-year-old Tamer Al-Hasasna — were convicted of murder and kidnapping, and each sentenced to 35 years in prison with hard labor, the judicial official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t allowed to speak to the media. They got 25 years as the maximum sentence for murder under Gaza law and another 10 years for kidnapping.
A third man, Khader Jram, 24, was sentenced to 10 years for taking part in the kidnapping. Another man, Amer Abu Ghouleh, 23, was given a year’s sentence for sheltering fugitives, the official said.
Lawyers from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which represented the activist’s family, confirmed the sentences.
The verdict cannot be appealed.
In a statement issued Monday, the rights group said they were “satisfied by the sentences issued by the court, which can be described, under the circumstances surrounding the case, as fair and legitimate, and considers that the murderers of Arrigoni have been effectively tried.”
The group said the court stopped short of sentencing the men to death because the slain activist’s parents had appealed to Hamas authorities not to impose the death penalty.
Two other men suspected of being involved in Arrigoni’s murder died in a gun battle in April last year after Hamas security forces stormed their Gaza hideout.
In the online video, Arrigoni’s killers had identified themselves as a hard-line group called “Monotheism and Holy War” and demanded the release of two of their leaders in exchange for the Italian.
Arrigoni’s death was particularly chilling because Al-Salfiti and Al-Hasasna worked for Hamas’ Interior Ministry. Salfiti was posted at a checkpoint near where Arrigoni lived, allowing him to closely monitor the Italian activist’s movements.
The slaying also deeply embarrassed Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Part of Hamas’ appeal to Palestinians was their promise to bring a halt to the violent crime and kidnapping that plagued the crowded territory when it was run by their rivals, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas.
One of Hamas’ first acts after seizing power was to force the release of a BBC reporter, Alan Johnston, held by hard-line Gaza militants in 2007.
Arrigoni’s slaying also underscored the challenge that Hamas — a deeply conservative militant group — faced from smaller more extremist factions in Gaza that see it as too pragmatic.
Reporters were not allowed to attend the Hamas military court’s sessions.
Arrigoni was easily recognizable in Gaza with his black cap, pipe, tattoos of Palestinian icons and his colorful Palestinian-flag bracelets. He rode with Gaza fishermen on small boats, hoping the presence of a Westerner would deter gunfire from nearby patrolling Israeli navy ships imposing a blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory.
He also helped farmers plant wheat close to Gaza’s eastern border with Israel, where they often came under fire for defying an Israeli-imposed security zone meant to deter Palestinian militants from approaching the area.
The rights group said it had chosen to represent Arrigoni’s family “out of its moral commitment toward international solidarity activists, who may lose their lives because of their support for the rights of Palestinian people.”
Arrigoni’s family was not immediately available for comment.
Gaza court gives life terms to 2 killers of Italian activist
September 17, 2012
GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories — Four Palestinian hardliners were jailed, two for life, on Monday after a Gaza military court found them guilty of the kidnap and murder of an Italian peace activist.
Mahmud al-Salfiti, 24, and Tamer al-Husasna, 26, were found guilty of kidnapping and murdering Vittorio Arrigoni in 2011 and each sentenced by the court in the Hamas-ruled enclave to life imprisonment.
Another member of the Salafist group, Khadr Faruk Jerim, 26, received a 10-year prison term for kidnapping the Italian while a fourth, Amer Abu Ghola, 26, was jailed for a year for providing the house in which Arrigoni was found hanged.
The tribunal also ordered the dismissal of Salfiti, Husasna and Jerim from the police force they served on. Abu Ghola is a fisherman.
Arrigoni, 36, a long-time member of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement, was kidnapped on April 14, 2011 in Gaza by Salafist jihadists.
Shortly after his disappearance, a previously-unknown Salafist group released a YouTube video showing a bruised and bloodied Arrigoni and threatened to kill him within 30 hours if Hamas failed to release a group of jihadist prisoners.
Hamas security forces found Arrigoni’s body shortly afterwards, ahead of the deadline, in an abandoned house in northern Gaza.
Among those held by Hamas the group demanded be freed was Sheikh Hisham al-Saedini, a leader of the Salafist group Tawhid wal Jihad. He was eventually released last month following Jordanian intervention.
Hamas quickly arrested several suspects in the case, and a week later raided a house where three more suspects were reportedly hiding.
Two were killed during the raid, and a third was arrested.
Following the sentencing, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, whose lawyers represented Arrigoni during the trial, welcomed the court’s decision, in accordance with the family’s wishes, not to impose the death penalty.
“PCHR, like the Arrigoni family, is satisfied by the sentences issued by the court, which can be described, under the circumstances surrounding the case, as fair and legitimate, and considers that the murderers of Arrigoni have been effectively tried,” it said in a statement.
Arrigoni’s death shocked local and international aid workers and activists in Gaza, where he had lived and worked for much of the three years prior to his death.His murder was the first of a foreigner in Gaza since Hamas took over in 2007.
He was the third ISM member to be killed there — US national Rachel Corrie was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in March 2003, and a month later Briton Tom Hurndall was shot and critically injured by the army. He died in January 2004.
Militant groups of Salafists, Sunni Muslims who promote a strict lifestyle based on the traditions of early “pious ancestors,” have several hundred members, according to their leaders.
They defy the authority of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Hamas, accusing it of insufficient opposition to Israel and not imposing Sharia, the Islamic law code.
They complained about a wave of arrests of their members by Hamas security forces in the wake of an attack on August 5 against Egyptian guards in the adjacent Sinai. Following the raid, in which attackers killed 16 Egyptian border guards, Egypt asked Hamas for information about members of a Salafist group in Gaza suspected of involvement, according to an Egyptian security official. On Monday Hamas said no Gazans were implicated .
“Investigations conducted by the (Hamas) government and continuous contacts with Egyptian officials show that there is no relationship between the Gaza Strip and the bloody attack” in northern Sinai, Hamas interior ministry spokesman Ihab al-Ghussein said in a statement published by Hamas-run Palestine newspaper.