ROME: Prosecutors in Rome on Tuesday formally opened an investigation into five Egyptian domestic secret service members and police investigators in connection with the 2016 torture and murder of an Italian researcher.
The five were being investigated on possible abduction charges related to the murder in January 2016 of 28-year-old Giulio Regeni, who was abducted and tortured for several days before his body was left on a desert highway north of Cairo. Prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco said the suspects are believed to have been active participants in Regeni’s abduction.
The launch of the investigation was likely to raise tensions with Egypt, which has already bristled at moves by Italy’s lower house to cut off parliamentary relations over the case. There was no immediate reaction from Cairo, but Egyptian prosecutors have reportedly rejected an Italian request to treat as suspects several policemen involved in the surveillance of Regeni for his work studying trade unions.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called Eygpt a “friendly country,” saying he wanted to maintain “good economic, cultural, commercial and social relations” but that “we have been waiting three years.”
The five Egyptian officials under investigation in Italy are a now-retired major general and a major at the domestic security agency, two police colonels and a junior police officer, according to security officials in Cairo. At least one of the officials has been reassigned to a remote province.
Police Maj. Gen. Tareq Saber was a top official at the domestic security agency at the time of Regeni’s abduction and killing. He retired in 2017. Police Maj. Sherif Magdy served at the same agency, and was in charge of the team that placed Regeni under surveillance.
The police officials were Col. Hesham Helmy, who served at the time of the abduction at a security center in charge of policing the Cairo district where Regeni lived; Col. Acer Kamal, who was head of a police department in charge of street works and discipline; and junior police officer Mahmoud Nejm.
Regeni, a Cambridge University graduate student who was researching trade unions in Egypt, disappeared in Cairo on January 25, 2016 — the fifth anniversary of Egypt’s popular uprising when thousands of police deployed across Cairo to pre-empt any attempt to mark the occasion. His body was found several days later by the side of a highway near Cairo with torture marks that activists and rights groups say resembled the results of widespread torture practices in Egyptian detention facilities.
Italy has been pushing Cairo for years to identify and prosecute those responsible for torturing and killing Regeni but has increased pressure as the third anniversary of his death approaches. The Foreign Ministry last week formally summoned the Egyptian ambassador to Rome to prompt Cairo to “act rapidly” on the case, following a recent meeting between Egyptian and Italian prosecutors.