Family of murdered Italian student in Cairo seek justice in new trial

By Ljubomir MILASIN
Egypt The murder of student Giulio Regeni in Cairo, allegedly by security officers, severely strained ties between Italy and Egypt.  By Marco BERTORELLO AFPFile
FEB 20, 2024 LISTEN
The murder of student Giulio Regeni in Cairo, allegedly by security officers, severely strained ties between Italy and Egypt. By Marco BERTORELLO (AFP/File)

A second trial of four Egyptian security officers accused of kidnapping and brutally murdering an Italian student in 2016 opened in Rome Tuesday with his parents vowing to uncover the truth.

Giulio Regeni, 28, had been conducting academic research when he was abducted in January 2016. His body was found nine days later, dumped on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital, bearing extensive signs of torture.

The murder severely strained ties between Italy and Egypt, while Italian MPs later accused Cairo of being "openly hostile" to attempts to try the suspects.

In 2021, Italian judges threw out the first trial the day it opened because prosecutors had not been able to officially inform the four suspects of the procedures against them.

But the Constitutional Court ruled in September that the case could go ahead in their absence.

On the new trial's opening day Tuesday, Regeni's parents, Claudio and Paola, and his sister Irene unfurled a large yellow banner bearing the words "Truth for Giulio Regeni", before entering the court.

After a heraing that lasted one-and-a-half hours, the family's lawyer, Alessandra Ballerini, said her clients looked forward to "finally (having) a trial against those who did all the evil in the world to Giulio."

"We have been waiting eight years for this moment," Ballerini told journalists outside the courtroom.

None of the four defendants -- General Tariq Sabir, Colonels Athar Kamel and Uhsam Helmi, and Major Magdi Ibrahim Abdelal Sharif -- were present in court.

All face charges of kidnapping, while Sharif is also charged with inflicting the fatal injuries on Regeni.

Defence lawyers asked that the case be thrown out, arguing that the charges indiscriminately targeted the group without attributing specific acts to each individual.

The court said it would rule on their legal objections at the next hearing March 18.

Ahead of the trial, the court-appointed defence lawyer for Kamel, Tranquillino Sarno, told AFP that the four men were "absolutely untraceable."

Even if they were convicted they would thus "certainly not serve their sentences", he said.

Openly hostile

Investigators believe Regeni was abducted and killed after being mistaken for a foreign spy. As part of his doctoral work, Regeni had been researching Egyptian trade unions, a particularly sensitive political issue.

His mother later said his body had been so badly mutilated that she recognised her son only by the "tip of his nose".

Five of his teeth had been broken, 15 of his bones had been fractured and letters had been inscribed into his flesh, according to the family's lawyer.

An Italian parliamentary commission found in December 2021 -- just weeks after the case was thrown out -- that Egypt's security agency was to blame for Regeni's death.

It also accused Egypt's judiciary of acting in an "obstructive and openly hostile manner" by failing to disclose the whereabouts of the defendants.

In December 2020, all four suspects as well as a fifth were cleared of responsibility for Regeni's murder by Egypt's public prosecutor, who said he would drop the case.