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Gaza court questions accused in death of Italian

22 September 2011 | AFP

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories — A Gaza military court on Thursday played the alleged confessions of four men accused in the April kidnap and murder of Italian peace activist Vittorio Arrigoni.

Of the four men, all from Gaza, two are accused of murder, a third of having helped in the kidnap and killing, and a fourth of providing the house where the body of Arrigoni was found hanging, hours after he was snatched.

The defendants appeared in Gaza City courtroom unshackled and in civilian clothes, all four sporting beards. They appeared calm and responded to questions from the court’s three judges.

The prosecution submitted four CDs purportedly containing videotaped confessions from each defendant.

The judges called each of the accused to the bench to observe a portion of their alleged confession being played on a laptop, which was not visible to the court’s audience.

“Is this your confession?” one of the judges asked Tamer al-Husasna, 25, who is charged with murder.

“Yes, but it was taken from me by force,” he replied, alleging he had been tortured by Hamas’s internal security forces.

The three other defendants also claimed that their confessions were extracted from them by torture, though they gave no details of their alleged mistreatment.

A lawyer observing the trial on behalf of a Gaza rights group told AFP on condition of anonymity that the trial had been adjourned to October 3, when the prosecution was expected to present additional witness testimony.

The three other defendants in the case are 23-year-old Mahmud al-Salfiti, who is charged with murder, Khadr Faruk Jerim, 25, who is accused of assisting the kidnap and murder, and Amer Abu Ghola, also 25, who allegedly provided the house in which Arrigoni was held and later killed.

Arrigoni, a long-time member of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement, was kidnapped on April 14.

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 afterward, ahead of the stated deadline, in an abandoned house in northern Gaza.

Among those the group demanded be freed was a leader of the Salafist group Tawhid wal Jihad (Unity and Holy War), which denied involvement in the incident.

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 taken into custody.

Arrigoni’s death shocked the local community and international aid workers and activists in Gaza, where he had lived and worked for much of the three years prior to his death.