CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's Interior Ministry said Thursday it has killed members of a gang suspected of being linked to the killing of an Italian student whose torture and death sparked an international outcry over possible involvement of Egyptian police in his brutal killing.
In a statement, the ministry said the gang members are specialized in abducting foreigners while posing as policemen, and found the personal belongings of the 28-year-old Giulio Regeni.
In an exchange of gunfire, the four men were killed inside their vehicle in an eastern Cairo suburb, the ministry statement said. It added that the group is suspected of orchestrating the kidnapping of foreigners and robbery. A body was found inside the group's vehicle next to weapons and forged police identification cards.
Ahmed Nagy, a state prosecutor investigating the Regeni case, told The Associated Press he has no information on the gang. He stressed, "there are no suspects," in the case.
Last week, Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi promised that investigators would work "night and day" to locate and prosecute those responsible for Regeni's killing.
Regeni went missing on Jan. 25, the fifth anniversary of Egypt's 2011 uprising, when police were deployed across Cairo in a broad security sweep to prevent any demonstrations.
In the statement, the ministry said that police raided one of the men's houses and found the personal belongings of Regeni, including his red handbag bearing the picture of the Italian flag, his passport and other identification cards, including one belonging to Cambridge University, in addition to his cellphones.
The ministry posted pictures of Regeni's credit card, passport, and other IDs.
It added that the Egyptian authorities have notified their Italian counterparts and expressed their appreciation for the Italians' cooperation.
Italian officials have repeatedly complained about a lack of transparency from Cairo amid media speculation that Regeni might have been a victim of the widespread torture and secret detentions by police that have been denounced by rights groups.
Regeni had been in Egypt since September conducting research on workers and labor rights — a sensitive topic, since disgruntled workers were among the forces in the 2011 anti-Mubarak uprising and authorities still worry about worker discontent.
Regeni was last seen on Jan. 25 heading from his apartment to meet a friend in downtown Cairo. He was on his way to the subway, which was packed with security personnel scanning bags and checking commuters' IDs.
In the days following his disappearance, friends and colleagues launched a search, circulating Regeni's picture widely on social media.
His body was found nine days later in an empty lot along a highway in the 6th of October suburb on Cairo's western outskirts.
Nagi said earlier that Regeni's body carried marks of torture.
"All of his body, including his face" had bruises, cuts from stabbings and burns from cigarettes, Nagi said, adding Regeni appeared to have suffered a "slow death."
News of the slaying and evidence of torture spurred diplomatic tensions. An Italian government delegation cut short a visit to Cairo and Italy summoned the Egyptian ambassador in Rome, calling for a full investigation with participation by Italian experts.
Egyptian media accused "evil hands" of orchestrating Regeni's killing to damage Egyptian-Italian relations. The term is usually used to refer to Islamists, who have been targeted by a ferocious crackdown since the 2013 military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
The Italian media pointed fingers at the Egyptian security forces.
A business daily, Il Sole 24 Ore, said "the strong suspicion" was that Regeni was "killed by Egypt ... by the system, by the security apparatus."
Egyptian officials deny any police involvement.
For years, rights groups have accused Egyptian police of regularly torturing detainees. Over the past year, they have also accused them of using "forced disappearances" — detaining suspected activists or Islamists in secret without reporting their arrest.