Who Killed Vittorio Arrigoni? Trial Begins

By Michele Giorgio – Gaza
Translated by Daniela Loffreda – Rome

Vittorio Arrigoni was strangled between 14 and 15 April between the hours of 11pm and 1 am. He was still alive in the video filmed by his kidnappers, which was later published on the internet. The swollen and bloody face of the activist and journalist shown in the images was the result of severe beating.

Perhaps the worst blow was one to his head, inflicted by Bilal al Omari (Vittorio’s occasional gym companion) with the grip of his pistol in the early stages of the kidnapping as Vittorio tried to break free and escape.

We have learned these details and many others ahead of the trial of the four Palestinians accused of kidnapping and murdering Vittorio due to begin in Gaza City tomorrow (September  8). They were related by Mohamed Najar, the lawyer for Khader Jram, a 26 year old Palestinian from the Shati refugee camp who works as a fireman. Khader Jram confessed to having been the one to identify Vittorio to the alleged Salafist group as the foreigner to capture last April. He also claimed to have kidnapped Vik under the orders of the Jordanian Abdel Rahman Breizat. Najar showed us the photocopies of official documents from the military prosecutor’s office and read us the most relevant passages from the confessions made by the defendants during interrogation.

The story told by Khadr Jram and the other three  defendants, Mohammed Salfi, a 23 year old from Karama, Hasanah Tarek, 25, and Amer Abu Ghoul, 25, both from Shati, perhaps doesn’t fully correspond to what actually took place. Further complicating matters, Breizat and Omari, who were considered to be the leaders of the Salafist group, cannot tell their version of events. The two were killed by a special unit chosen by Hamas a couple of days after Vik’s body was found in their Nusseirat hideout. This is the first time in the five months since Vittorio’s death that the files from the military prosecutor’s investigation have been disclosed, if only in part. To date the files have not been made available to the Arrigoni family lawyers.

Two days ago, the Palestinian Center of Human Rights received the power of attorney in Gaza to represent Vik’s family at the hearing. It is hoped that Hamas will not continue to challenge the validity of the power of attorney, which was obtained in accordance with the criteria established by the Islamic movement.

Why was Vittorio, the person that dedicated the last years of his life to Gaza and who enjoyed the esteem of so many Palestinians, killed? Najar’s lawyer has a long answer to this question that many have been asking themselves for months. "According to the confessions and statements made by my client and the other defendants, the intent was to seize a Westerner to obtain the release of Sheikh Abdel-Walid al-Maqdisi, whom Hamas had arrested on suspicion of subversive activities," said Najar.

“Breizat had entered Gaza for the first time 18 months earlier and returned between the months of February and March 2011, using false identity documents, for the sole purpose of finding a way to release Sheik Maqdisi who had been his teacher in Jordan.” The lawyer added that the youths “wanted to affirm the existence of their armed cell (ideologically linked to Tawhid wa Jihad) via the kidnapping and had no intention of killing the Italian.”

True or false? Najar raised his shoulders and said: “This is what I read in the files”.

But why Vittorio Arrigoni? “My client (Jram) worked in the fire station in front of a building frequented by Vittorio. He told me he had insisted much over his name because he was known in Gaza and because, according to him, the Italian lived a life bearing little conformity to the local customs, too much like a westerner”. In substance, the attorney explained, “the purpose of the kidnapping was to first of all get freedom for Maqdisi and immediately after give the Italian a lesson: punch him, scare him and then set him free.

But things went differently and Vik was brutally killed. “The Hamas police were able to reconstruct the dynamics of the kidnapping in a few hours on the evening of 14 April. They immediately arrested Khader Jram who had followed Arrigoni’s movements, spoken to him on the very evening of the kidnapping and had signaled his whereabouts to his accomplices. In order to avoid being captured, Breizat killed the Italian and with the other two accomplices (al Omari and Salfiti) tried to leave no traces of their trail, but they were immediately found. The Jordanian, described as cold and calculating by the other members of the group, remains a mystery even after the investigation of Hamas. Attorney Najar states that in reviewing the files not even the military attorney was able to ascertain links between Breizat and “external forces” interested in eliminating Vittorio Arrigoni. Nonetheless the investigators don’t exclude this.

Yesterday we got the impression that during the trial, attorney Najar and the legal team of the other defendants will accuse Breizat and Al Omari, who are not able to speak for themselves anymore, for the major responsibility of the crime. For example, during questioning Salfiti declared that while Vittorio was being killed “he was in the bathroom” and didn’t see anything. Hasasnah furnished a similar version of events. Instead Jram claims that he had a non-operative, secondary role, while the kidnapping was taking place. While al Ghoula said that he only rented out his apartment used by the kidnappers to hide Vittorio and that he never really was aware of the intentions of the armed group.

Therefore, we will witness a veritable “pass-the-buck” show. Jrar, meanwhile, stated that he is “very sorry” for having insisted on Vik’s kidnapping and is hoping for a lenient sentence with a few years in jail.

It will be up to Abu Omar Atallah the military judge to clarify the facts and dissolve all the resistance by the Hamas government. Over the last five months they failed to issue any statement over the assassination of Vittorio and didn’t even announce the date of the trial.

(The hearing was postponed until September 22.)

– This article, written by Michele Giorgio was originally published in the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto on September 7. Permission to publish was obtained by the author. Translation by Daniela Loffreda.

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