An inter-Palestinian dispute between the Iranian-backed Hamas and an al-Qaeda-linked group ended in the murder of an Italian peace activist.
The body of Vittorio Arrigoni, a member of the International Solidarity Movement, was found early Friday morning, according to Hamas, the Palestinian faction controlling the Gaza Strip. The 36-year-old peace activist and blogger had not been heard from for 24 hours.
Hamas accused Israel of being behind the attack. The group's spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, said the "goal of this depraved band of outlaws was to spread chaos and anarchy in the Gaza Strip, a desperate attempt to strike at the stable security situation," The Jerusalem Post reported.
Barhoum said Arrigoni's kidnapping and murder was meant to dissuade foreign activists from taking part in the Gaza flotilla planned for the end of May.
On Thursday, ISM said Arrigoni had been kidnapped by a terror group in Gaza, which identified itself as "Monotheism and Jihad."
The group released a video of Arrigoni, sitting blindfolded, with a large bruise on his face. It called on Hamas to release its leader, Sheikh Abu Walid al-Maqdasi, who was arrested in early March in Gaza City, along with two unnamed members. The terrorists threatened to execute Arrigoni if Hamas didn't release its members by Thursday afternoon, The Associated Press reported.
The Italian Foreign Ministry released a statement on Thursday saying it was aware of the kidnapping and had informed Arrigoni's family that it was taking the appropriate steps to have him released.
"Foreign Minister Franco Frattini is in touch with diplomats in the country and is following the situation with great attention," the statement read.
On Friday, the ministry released a second statement denouncing "in the strongest manner the act of vile and senseless violence committed by extremists who are indifferent to the value of human life." It expressed its "deep horror over the barbaric murder and its most sincere condolences to the family."
ISM operates in Palestinian-controlled areas in Judea and Samaria - the West Bank - and the Gaza Strip to prevent the IDF from "carrying out its missions," the AP report stated.
Videos of Arrigoni from earlier this year have been posted on the Internet. In one video, he says he arrived in Gaza on August 23, 2009, on a Free Gaza Movement boat with 40 activists from 17 different countries.
"We arrived and broke a siege lasting since 1967," Arrigoni says on the video. "I remember this day as one of the happiest in my life."
(Israel only closed the borders of the Gaza Strip after Hamas seized control there in a violent coup nearly four years ago.)
"My grandfathers died fighting an occupation, another occupation, the Nazi-fascist occupation in Italy. For this reason, my DNA, my blood probably has parts pushing me to fight for freedom and human rights," he said, adding that he and others like him came to Gaza to "face the snipers as a human shield" and to oppose their governments' "cooperation with the Zionist-Israeli regime."
YNet news contributed to this report.