Thursday,23 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)
Thursday,23 May, 2019
Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Speculation on Regeni death continues

The Interior Ministry has released a further statement on the murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Cairo, writes Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Interior Ministry issued a statement last week on the ongoing investigation into the murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni in Cairo, saying that some had insisted on “pre-empting the results of the investigation by jumping to conclusions and circulating rumours in foreign newspapers without any evidence”.

This had misled public opinion and affected the course of the investigation, the statement said. According to the statement, the security forces have formed an investigation team to examine the circumstances of the killing through a plan that relies on checking Regeni’s background and his relationships.

As a result of the efforts, the ministry said, “Regeni had broad connections and relationships despite having only been in the country for a few months. The investigation team has interviewed Regeni’s foreign and Egyptian acquaintances to discuss in detail their relationships with him.”

Regeni, 28, a PhD student at Cambridge University in the UK who was affiliated with the American University in Cairo, was in Cairo researching Egypt’s trade unions and labour movements.

He was reported missing on the fifth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution. Regeni’s mutilated and half-naked body was found on 3 February on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road.

“Although the team has not yet identified the perpetrators of the incident, it hasn’t ruled out any possibilities, including criminal activity or a desire for revenge due to personal reasons, especially in the light of Regeni’s many relationships with people near where he lived and where he studied,” the statement, issued on 24 February, said.

On the same day, Egypt’s ambassador to Italy, Amr Helmi, said that the murder of Regeni may have been a criminal or a terrorist act committed by someone “who wanted to undermine relations between Italy and Egypt,” according to the MENA news agency.

In response, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said, according to Italian news agency ANSA, “We will not settle for a convenient truth, nor for unlikely leads such as those suggested by Cairo.” He added that Italian agents in Cairo “must have access to all the sound files and footage as well as all the procedural files in the hands of the Giza prosecutors.”

Egyptian cooperation with Italy “can be and must be more effective,” said Gentiloni. “It cannot be only formal.” Egyptian security forces are working with an Italian investigative team that arrived in Egypt in the first week of February in an effort to solve the murder.

“The government will convey specific requests via diplomatic channels. We owe it to Regeni’s family and to the dignity of our country,” Gentiloni added.

Giacomo Stucchi, head of the Italian parliamentary Intelligence Oversight Committee, COPASIR, said that Egypt “is trying to cover up the murder of Regeni”. According to ANSA, he said, “There are unacceptable attempts to provide convenient truths.”

Though the Interior Ministry stressed in an earlier statement that the team investigating Regeni’s disappearance and murder was working in collaboration with the Italian investigators, Stucchi stressed that “our policemen and Carabinieri on the ground [in Cairo] must have all the audio and video evidence, as well as news on Regeni’s last contacts and movements.”

As for speculation that Regeni’s work on Egyptian labour movements may have been used by other countries’ intelligence services, Stucchi said this was “an offence to Regeni’s memory. If the Egyptian authorities think they saw something like that in his work they’re very wrong.”

Last Thursday, the Italian Coalition for Civil Rights and Freedoms, an NGO, with the participation of Amnesty International Italia, launched a campaign called “Truth and Justice for Giulio Regeni” at a sit-in in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Rome. The protest included Italian human rights activists, NGOs and union representatives, artists and MPs, all of whom called for justice in the case.

Italian MP Nicola Fratoianni, one of the participants at the sit-in, was quoted by ANSA as saying, “This case cannot be written off simply as an accident, and too many versions given by the Egyptian government are not convincing.”

He added, “The idea of the Regeni incident being simply a personal vendetta, or possibly down to unusual behaviour by Regeni himself, as Cairo is claiming, is unacceptable.”

The Egyptian Forensics Authority sent its final autopsy report on Regini to the prosecutor-general’s office on 14 February. Though the prosecutor’s office said it would not disclose the report’s contents, a senior source at the authority told Reuters that “Regeni had seven broken ribs, signs of electrocution on his penis, traumatic injuries all over his body, and a brain haemorrhage.”

His body also bore signs of cuts from a sharp instrument, suspected of being a razor, abrasions and bruises. “He was likely assaulted using a stick as well as being punched and kicked,” the source said.

A second autopsy, conducted after Regini’s body was returned to Italy, confirmed that the student had been subjected to what Italian Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano described as “inhuman, animal-like” violence.

The ANSA news agency quoted sources close to the Italian coroners as saying, “The findings showed that Regeni’s neck was twisted, the vertebra were broken, and he was left unable to breathe.” The Italian final autopsy report is scheduled to be submitted to Prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco next week.

On Friday, the Rome prosecutor’s office said the murder of Regeni was linked to “his research and not to drugs or a crime of passion, as the Egyptian authorities have suggested in the past”.

It said the killing was carried out by “professionals who were well versed in methods of torture.” It also said the student’s computer did not contain any evidence of links to the secret services and that he had no ties to suspicious individuals.

Italian investigators said they had found no evidence that Regeni was under surveillance, despite the fact that he had told fellow researchers he feared for his safety after he was photographed by an unknown person at an Egyptian trade union meeting on 11 December.

On Monday, Fabrizio Cicchitto, chair of the Italian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Egypt must do more to help Italy find the “gang of torturers” who killed Regeni. “A response that gives names and surnames to the organised gang of torturers who killed Giulio Regeni is indispensable,” Cicchitto said, while rejecting a call from his Senate counterpart, Pier Ferdinando Casini, to recall the Italian ambassador to Egypt in protest at the alleged lack of cooperation.

Commenting on last week’s Interior Ministry statement, the Italian daily newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore on Saturday ran its article under the headline “Disinformation Continues”. Earlier, on 11 February the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that a Cairo street vendor told Italian detectives he had seen plainclothes officers detaining a foreigner on 25 January outside the metro station close to the Italian’s flat in Dokki.

The account first surfaced in the New York Times, which ran a story claiming that “three Egyptian security officials who said they had inquired about the case said that Regeni had been taken into custody by the authorities because he had been impertinent with the officers. ‘He was very rude and acted like a tough guy,’ one of the officials said.”

The newspaper added that the three officials, who were interviewed separately, said that Regeni had “drawn suspicions because of contacts on his phone that the officials said included people associated with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the leftist April 6 Youth Movement”.

However, Corriere della Sera later appeared to backtrack, reporting on 14 February, “The witnesses tracked down by the US newspaper do not appear to be fully credible.”

The Italian edition of the news website The Local reported in the first week of February that “Italian media are now pointing fingers at the Egyptian security services,” with many papers saying the autopsy results show “signs of torture which suggest that his killers believed he was a spy”. The Italian daily La Stampa was more explicit, reporting on the case under the headline “Egyptian Police Under Accusation.”

Egypt’s interior and foreign ministers have repeatedly dismissed the notion that the security forces were behind Regeni’s murder. Human rights groups in Egypt accuse the Interior Ministry of widespread abuses, allegations it denies.

“It never happened,” Interior Minister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar said during a press conference three weeks ago in response to a question on the possibility that Regeni had been detained by the police.

“There have been rumours and stories in the press linking the security apparatus to the incident. It is completely unacceptable that such accusations are being directed at the Interior Ministry. We are doing our best to identify and arrest the perpetrators of the incident as soon as possible,” he said.

Khaled Okasha, director of the National Centre for Security Studies, said that conflicting initial statements issued by security officials and the time-lapse between Regini’s disappearance and the matter being accorded serious police attention had “fuelled a state of uncertainty on the part of the Italians”.

Said Okasha, “Moreover, the confused statements by security officials in the early days of the case fuelled more uncertainty.”

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