Egyptian-Italian ties back on track after student murder probe

Italian Deputy PM Luigi Di Maio speaks during a news conference in Cairo. (Reuters)
Updated 31 August 2018
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Egyptian-Italian ties back on track after student murder probe

  • Regeni disappeared on Jan. 25, 2016 while doing postgraduate research on Egyptian trade unions. His body was discovered on Feb. 3 and Egyptian investigators found signs of extensive torture
  • I hope that by the end of the year we can get to a breakthrough: Italian Deputy PM Luigi Di Maio

CAIRO: Italy hopes for a breakthrough by the end of this year in the investigation into the death of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Egypt, Italy’s deputy prime minister said during a visit to Cairo.

Regeni disappeared on Jan. 25, 2016 while doing postgraduate research on Egyptian trade unions. His body was discovered on Feb. 3 and Egyptian investigators found signs of extensive torture.

“I hope that by the end of the year we can get to a breakthrough, and that the meeting between the judicial authorities can take place as soon as possible,” said Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, who serves in a coalition government that took office in June earlier this year.

“Both on the Egyptian side and on our side, there is willingness to ask for an acceleration,” he said after a meeting with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

Egypt’s presidency said in a statement that El-Sisi affirmed during the Wednesday meeting with Di Maio “his confidence in reaching the final results in the investigations into the killing of (Regeni), in light of the strong will to find the culprits and bring them to justice.”

Intelligence and security sources told Reuters in 2016 that police had arrested Regeni outside a Cairo metro station on Jan. 25 of that year and then transferred him to a compound run by Homeland Security.

Egyptian officials have denied any involvement in his death and El-Sisi said last month that Cairo was determined to conclude a joint investigation and bring Regeni’s killers to justice.

Di Maio said judicial officials from Italy and Egypt, which have been investigating the Regeni case jointly, were due to meet soon.

Egyptian and Italian investigators have been working together to retrieve CCTV recordings from Cairo metro stations as part of the investigation. The two sides said in June that they had found gaps in the footage from inside and around Cairo metro stations and were trying to discover the cause.

Di Maio said he had not discussed details of the case with Sisi, but that Regeni had topped the agenda of their talks. 

“It’s clear that the normalization of our relations has to come about through the truth about Giulio Regeni and (his) death,” he said.

“Both President El-Sisi and the members of the government present were more than willing and in agreement that the truth about Giulio Regeni should be established as soon as possible.”

The Regeni case strained relations between Italy and Egypt. Italy recalled its ambassador in April 2016 before restoring its diplomatic presence in Cairo last year.

Italy is an important trade partner for Egypt, with €4.75 billion ($5.5 billion) in commerce per year according to Egypt’s Foreign Ministry. Italian oil major Eni is among Egypt’s top foreign investors.

The Egyptian president hailed the return of “normal” relations with Italy that were long strained over Regeni’s murder.

In discussing the Regeni case, the Egyptian president expressed “a strong will to reveal the perpetrators and bring them to justice”, according to a statement released by his spokesman Bassam Radi.

El-Sisi said he was keen to enhance cooperation and welcomed the increasing diplomatic visits between Egypt and Italy as a “return of relations to their normal course”.

Di Maio, leader of Italy’s populist Five Star Movement, praised the “progress made on the case and the sincere cooperation” of Egyptian authorities, the statement said.

Regeni was researching labor movements when he disappeared and Egyptian authorities have been accused of failing to cooperate in the Italian investigation.

The visit to Cairo by Di Maio comes less than three weeks after that of Italy’s Foreign Minister, Enzo Moavero Milanesi, during which “cooperation” on the Regeni case was also noted.

In the latest bilateral meeting, El-Sisi and Di Maio also discussed illegal immigration and developments in Libya.

The two sides also talked about strengthening ties “especially in the economic and trade fields,” as well as the energy sector, the statement said.

In January, El-Sisi and the boss of Italian energy giant Eni, Claudio Descalzi, attended the inauguration of the offshore Zohr gas field which the firm discovered in 2015.


Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

Alister Shepherd, the director of a subsidiary of FireEye, during a presentation about the APT33 in Dubai Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

  • The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.
  • Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

DUBAI: An Iranian government-aligned group of hackers launched a major campaign targeting Mideast energy firms and others ahead of US sanctions on Iran, a cybersecurity firm said Tuesday, warning further attacks remain possible as America reimposes others on Tehran.

While the firm FireEye says the so-called “spear-phishing” email campaign only involves hackers stealing information from infected computers, it involves a similar type of malware previously used to inject a program that destroyed tens of thousands of terminals in Saudi Arabia.

The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.

“Whenever we see Iranian threat groups active in this region, particularly in line with geopolitical events, we have to be concerned they might either be engaged in or pre-positioning for a disruptive attack,” Alister Shepherd, a director for a FireEye subsidiary, told The Associated Press.

Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

“Iran’s cyber capabilities are purely defensive, and these claims made by private firms are a form of false advertising designed to attract clients,” the mission said in a statement. “They should not be taken at face value.”

FireEye, which often works with governments and large corporations, refers to the group of Iranian hackers as APT33, an acronym for “advanced persistent threat.” APT33 used phishing email attacks with fake job opportunities to gain access to the companies affected, faking domain names to make the messages look legitimate. Analysts described the emails as “spear-phishing” as they appear targeted in nature.

FireEye first discussed the group last year around the same time. This year, the company briefed journalists after offering presentations to potential government clients in Dubai at a luxury hotel and yacht club on the man-made, sea-horse-shaped Daria Island.

While acknowledging their sales pitch, FireEye warned of the danger such Iranian government-aligned hacking groups pose. Iran is believed to be behind the spread of Shamoon in 2012, which hit Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas. The virus deleted hard drives and then displayed a picture of a burning American flag on computer screens. Saudi Aramco ultimately shut down its network and destroyed over 30,000 computers.

A second version of Shamoon raced through Saudi government computers in late 2016, this time making the destroyed computers display a photograph of the body of 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned fleeing his country’s civil war.

But Iran first found itself as a victim of a cyberattack. Iran developed its cyber capabilities in 2011 after the Stuxnet computer virus destroyed thousands of centrifuges involved in Iran’s contested nuclear program. Stuxnet is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation.

APT33’s emails haven’t been destructive. However, from July 2 through July 29, FireEye saw “a by-factors-of-10 increase” in the number of emails the group sent targeting their clients, Shepherd said.