Trial begins in Rome for Egyptian security officials accused of student’s abduction and murder

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  • Four high-level Egyptian security officials have gone on trial in absentia the 2016 abduction, torture and slaying of an Italian doctoral student in Cairo.
  • Tuesday’s opening hearing marks the second time the four Egyptians have been prosecuted in an Italian court in absentia.
  • In 2021, a Rome judge halted the trial on the day it opened, arguing there was no certainty that the suspects had been officially informed that they were charged.

Four high-level Egyptian security officials went on trial in absentia before a Rome court on Tuesday, accused in the 2016 abduction, torture and slaying of an Italian doctoral student in Cairo.

The parents of the slain student Giulio Regeni, Paola and Giulio Regeni, were on hand for the opening court session and posed outside the tribunal with a banner “Truth for Giulio Regeni.”

Regeni’s body was found on a highway days after he disappeared in the Egyptian capital on Jan. 25, 2016. He was in Cairo to research union activities among street vendors as part of his doctoral thesis.

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His mother has said his body was so mutilated by torture that she was only able to recognize the tip of his nose when she viewed it. Human rights activists have said the marks on his body resembled those resulting from widespread torture in Egyptian Security Agency facilities.

Paola, mother of Giulio Regeni, is seen with her husband Claudio prior to the start of the trial for the killing of Cambridge University researcher Giulio Regeni, in Rome on Feb. 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Tuesday’s opening hearing actually marked the second time the four Egyptian security officials went on trial on charges related to his death: In 2021, a Rome judge halted the trial on the day it opened, arguing there was no certainty that the defendants had been officially informed that they were charged.

In September, Italy’s Constitutional Court ruled that the trial could go ahead even if the four hadn’t received official notification, because Egyptian authorities had refused to provide addresses for them.

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The accused are Maj. Sherif Magdy; police Maj. Gen. Tareq Saber, who was a top official at the domestic security agency at the time of Regeni’s abduction; Col. Hesham Helmy, who was serving at a security center in charge of policing the Cairo district where the Italian was living, and Col. Acer Kamal, who headed a police department in charge of street operation and discipline.

Egyptian authorities have alleged that the Cambridge University doctoral student fell victim to ordinary robbers.

The case strained relations between Italy and Egypt, an ally for Rome in efforts to combat terrorism. At one point, Italy withdrew its ambassador to press for Egyptian cooperation in the investigation.

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