CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian state television aired footage on Monday of an Italian student taken weeks before he was abducted and tortured to death, the first images of him involving the case to be made public.
The video of Cambridge graduate student Giulio Regeni was purportedly taken secretly by Mohammed Abdullah, head of an unofficial street vendors union. In it, Regeni explains in Arabic the applications process to obtain funding from a British institution he refers to as the "Egyptian center."
The narrative revealed in the video seems to support a theory that has emerged in the investigation — that Regeni was attempting to help union organizers apply for grants while researching the labor movement in Egypt, a sensitive topic that aroused suspicion by the country's feared intelligence services. It was unclear why Abdullah made the recording, taken from a hidden angle.
Egypt's pro-government media has long suggested Regeni was involved in fomenting unrest, without providing any evidence. Regeni went missing in Cairo last year on the fifth anniversary of the Jan. 25 uprising, when police were out in force. Egypt has denied its security forces were involved in the killing, but Italy severed diplomatic ties last year over Cairo's alleged lack of cooperation in the investigation.
For those knowledgeable of research grants and international development aid processes, the heavily edited footage released Monday may seem to exonerate Regeni. But it also evokes buzzwords that easily raise suspicion in Egypt — with Regeni mentioning money, information, and at one point, the uprising's anniversary.
"I don't have any power — there is a program in Britain but I don't know the people who enter those institutions with the money," he explains when Abdullah recounts personal woes and asks how to obtain money for himself. "What am I supposed to do — write them an email and say we want the money because Jan. 25 is in two weeks? No, that's not possible, that's not professional," he says.
"I'm a researcher, and as for myself, I want to research the project, that's what's important," he said. "And I want for you, the street vendors' union, is to get money in an official way, according to the project."
The video surfaced a day after Egypt said it had agreed to Italy's request to send experts to try and retrieve footage from security cameras at a Cairo metro station Regeni used the day he disappeared. Italian and German experts will analyze the material in the hope of finding who is behind the disappearance.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has promised that investigators would work "night and day" to identify and prosecute those responsible for Regeni's torture and killing. He also blames the local media for wrongfully pointing an accusing finger at his security forces, even though their abuses are regularly noted and criticized by human rights groups.
On Saturday, senior el-Sissi adviser and confidant retired Maj. Gen. Abbas Kamel traveled to Rome, ostensibly to discuss the case, which has soured relations between the two countries. Local press reports have said he was involved in the Regeni investigation.
Regeni was on his way to the Dokki metro station to visit a friend in Cairo on Jan. 25, and with thousands of security forces deployed in Cairo's streets, amid aggressive round-ups of activists to head off protests, speculation has grown that Egyptian security forces were behind his abduction and death. Egypt has denied this.
His brutally tortured body was found by the side of a suburban Cairo road nearly 10 days after he disappeared.
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