Italy urged Egypt for help hours after student disappeared

AP News
Posted: Feb 11, 2016 6:13 PM
Italy urged Egypt for help hours after student disappeared

CAIRO (AP) — Italian officials contacted Egyptian authorities hours after a student later found tortured to death disappeared in central Cairo last month, according to an official summary of early Italian efforts to locate him.

The summary, obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, says Ambassador Maurizio Massari contacted Italian intelligence, who reached out to their Egyptian counterparts shortly after Giulio Regeni disappeared on Jan. 25.

Egyptian security forces had been extremely active on that day and the weeks before, raiding apartments, checking IDs, and searching baggage in order to prevent protests or violence on the fifth anniversary of a popular uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Regeni's body, stabbed repeatedly and exhibiting burns and other signs of torture, turned up dumped by a roadside in a Cairo suburb on Feb. 3.

On Jan. 26, Massari sent a diplomatic note to his Egyptian counterpart, and a day later asked to meet the interior minister but the request was denied, the summary said.

An Egyptian Foreign Ministry official said the request was relayed to relevant security agencies "the minute" it was received and they started their search.

"We kept following the matter with them and informed the Italian side of any developments and/or information we received," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters. The Interior Ministry could be immediately reached for comment.

Italy waited almost a week before going public with the case, prompting accusations that it prioritized business interests with Egypt — and hopes for a trade delegation headed to Cairo after Regeni disappeared — over the search for the student. Regeni's friends have kept quiet about the matter, citing requests by Regeni's family, and the Italian press has said several returned to Italy upon advice of diplomats.

The visit of some 60 business people was cut short on the news of his death and its leader, Economic Development Minister Federica Guidi, returned home.

Rome says it wants those responsible for the killings to be found and be punished on the basis of law.

Italian media have focused on the hypothesis that elements in Egypt's security forces, which have been repeatedly criticized by human rights watchdogs, arrested the young man because he was in contact with Egyptian labor activists as part of his research.

Egyptian academics and activists have confirmed that Regeni met with union leaders and street vendors during his stay in Egypt. The field is known as particularly sensitive and often infiltrated by intelligence services seeking to quash workers' organization, experts say, with foreign inquiries especially drawing suspicion.

In open letters to general-turned President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, academics around the world have lamented what they describe as a growing danger for local and foreign researchers in Egypt and demanded a transparent investigation into his killing.

An Italian autopsy on Regeni's body showed that the doctoral student suffered "inhuman, animal-like" violence, Italy's interior minister said on Sunday as he pressed Egypt's president to fully cooperate with the criminal investigation.