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Egyptians stand trial over murder of Italian student

October 14, 2021

Four members of Egypt's security services are standing trial in absentia over the 2016 killing of Giulio Regeni. Italy hopes the proceedings will bring attention to the murder, even though the defendants are not present.

People stand at a memorial with photos of Giulio Regeni
Giulio Regeni was abducted and killed in the Egyptian capital in 2016Image: Michele Amoruso/Pacific Press/picture alliance

Four senior members of Egypt's security services are standing trial in absentia in an Italian court on Thursday over their suspected involvement in the brutal killing of student Giulio Regeni in Cairo in 2016.

Italy hopes the proceedings will bring attention to a murder that shocked the country and strained ties with Egypt, which has repeatedly denied that its officials had anything to do with Regeni's death.

"The search for the truth has always been, and will continue to be, a fundamental goal in our relations with Egypt," Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the case last month.

"Achieving a definitive picture, in the framework of a fair trial, will not bring Giulio back to his parents, but it will reaffirm the strength of justice, transparency, and the rule of law in which he believed."

A problematic trial

Regeni, 28, was doing research for a doctorate at Cambridge University when he was abducted in January 2016. His body, bearing extensive signs of torture, was eventually found dumped on the outskirts of Cairo.

However, the trial over his murder has proven to be problematic. The court will have to rule on whether the four suspects are aware of the judicial proceedings against them, as required by law. Egypt has refused to provide their contact details.

The four are named in court documents as General Tariq Sabir, Colonels Athar Kamel and Uhsam Helmi, and Major Magdi Ibrahim Abdelal Sharif, who is accused of carrying out the killing.

'Significant proof of implication'

Investigators believe Regeni was abducted and killed after being mistaken for a foreign spy.

Prosecutor Michele Prestipino told a parliamentary committee in December that there were "elements of significant proof" implicating Egyptian officers in the murder.

Court-appointed defense lawyers say the trial should not be held because it is not certain that any of the four suspects know about the proceedings. However, a judge overruled their objection at a preliminary hearing in May, saying media coverage meant news of the investigation would have reached them regardless.

That decision may be upheld or overturned by the court on Thursday.

lc/nm (AFP, Reuters)