April 15, 2011 / 1:15 PM / in 8 years

"Dismay and sorrow" in hometown of Italian activist

* 36-year-old wanted to help Palestinians defy “Zionists”

* Worked with Gaza fishermen and farmers

By Antonella Ciancio

MILAN, April 15 (Reuters) - Vittorio Arrigoni, the Italian abducted and killed by al Qaeda aligned militants in the Gaza Strip, was an idealist from a small town near Milan whose residents heard the news with “dismay and sorrow”.

Tattooed on his arms and with an eyebrow stud, Arrigoni came from Bulciago, a quiet town of some 2,700 inhabitants about 35 kilometres north of Milan where his mother is mayor. He had been in the Palestinian territories on and off for a decade.

The 36-year-old, who often wore a black worker’s cap, identified himself as one of a community who unlike “governments complicit with the Zionist Israeli government are ready to devote their lives to come to embrace their brothers in Gaza”.

His mother Egidia Beretta, who Arrigoni telephoned regularly, said they had spoken a few days earlier. “It was calm, we talked about what he was up to, what was happening in our family. He was planning his return,” she told Italian television.

Town councillor Raffaella Purricelli said Bulciago residents had been very upset by news of the abduction and killing and a public meeting was planned later on Friday.

“There is dismay and sorrow for Vittorio,” he told Reuters. “Bulciago is a simple town, where solidarity towards the needy is very important. We share what Vittorio used to say, ‘Stay human’”, he said.

WORKED WITH FISHERMEN AND FARMERS

Arrigoni was a committed supporter of Palestinians and a strong critic of Israeli policy.

“I remember that day as one of the happiest and most emotional of my life,” he said in an interview posted on YouTube, in which he described arriving in Gaza on a boat from the Free Gaza Movement.

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He was among a group of activists from Europe and the United States who reactivated the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and had worked closely with Gazan fishermen and farmers.

On Friday, his body was recovered in an abandoned house in the Gaza Strip after his abduction by militants from a Jihadist Salafi group the day before.

“Yesterday when we received the news, at the beginning we did not believe it. We thought it was just a joke, but then we saw the video we believed it,” said Silvia Todeschini, a fellow Italian and activist.

“They brought us to the body and we said yes, it was him. Vittorio was here for the Palestinian people, and they killed somebody who was here for them.”

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by James Mackenzie, editing by Peter Millership

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