Italy recalls ambassador to Egypt over student's murder

Italy recalls ambassador to Egypt over Italian student Giulio Regeni’s unsolved murder case

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Italian ambassador to Egypt Maurizio Massari arriving on February 4, 2016 to a morgue where the body of Italian student Giulio Regeni was brought after it was found earlier on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital Cairo.

Italy recalled its ambassador to Egypt for consultations on Friday after Egyptian investigators in Rome failed to provide evidence needed to solve the mystery of the murder of an Italian student in Cairo.

Ambassador Maurizio Massari was called to the capital for "an urgent evaluation" of what steps to take to "ascertain the truth about the barbaric murder of Giulio Regeni," the Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Egyptian authorities met with Rome prosecutors on Thursday and Friday, handing over some, but not all, of the evidence Italy had requested.

The prosecutors said in a statement that the Egyptian investigators had still not handed over such evidence, as details from Cairo cell towers that had connected to Regeni's mobile phone.

Regeni, 28, vanished from the streets of Cairo on January 25, on the anniversary of Egypt's 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule.

His body was discovered in a ditch on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital on February 3, showing signs of extensive torture including multiple stab wounds and cigarette burns.

Regeni was a graduate student at Britain's Cambridge University and had been researching independent trade unions in Egypt.

He had written articles critical of the Egypt’s military-backed President Abdel Fattah al Sisi's government, according to Il Manifesto, a left-wing Italian newspaper that published them.

Paola Regeni (R), mother of Giulio Regeni, the Italian student murdered in Egypt, looks on during a news conference at the upper house of the parliament in Rome, Italy, 29 March, 2016. [Reuters]

Regeni's mother said last week that her son's body had been so disfigured that she had only been able to recognise him by the tip of his nose.

Human rights groups have said the torture indicates he was killed by Egyptian security forces, an allegation Cairo has repeatedly denied.

"Recalling the ambassador for talks means that Italy confirms its commitment with itself and the Regeni family: We will stop only before the truth, the real truth," PM Matteo Renzi told reporters on Friday, adding that Italian prosecutors said this week's meetings had been "disappointing."

Italian officials have openly ridiculed different versions of Regeni's death put forward by Egyptian investigators, including an initial suggestion that he had died in a traffic accident.

Last month, Egyptian police said Regeni's belongings, including his passport, had been found in the possession of a band of thieves that were killed in a shootout with Egyptian police. Investigators in Italy quickly dismissed that story.

Activists hold placards, which read, among others, "Giulio, one of us and killed like us," during a memorial for Italian Giulio Regeni outside the Italian embassy in Cairo, Egypt, February 6, 2016. [Reuters]

Italy's move to escalate the diplomatic dispute is likely to further strain relations between the two countries, and it is a setback for Renzi's diplomatic efforts to make Italy the main European partner for Egypt.

Egypt will "assess in a comprehensive manner" the situation when its investigative team returns home, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said in a statement. Egypt had not yet been officially notified of Italy's move to recall its ambassador, nor for "the reasons behind this decision," he said.

Renzi had offered to be "a bridge" to Europe when Sisi visited Rome in 2014, saying the two countries were strategic partners in the region against terror and people smuggling.

Apart from common political aims, Italy has significant economic interests in Egypt, including the giant offshore Zohr gas field, which is being developed by Italy's state energy producer Eni.

A delegation of Italian businessmen led by then-Industry Minister Federica Guidi cut short a visit to Cairo and returned home when Regeni's body was recovered in February.

TRTWorld, Reuters