Egypt says Italian student was not arrested before his death

Egypt denied reports that an Italian doctoral student doing research in Cairo was arrested shortly before his death

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Egypt on Monday denied reports that an Italian doctoral student doing research in Cairo was arrested shortly before his death and said an investigation into Giulio Regeni’s killing is continuing with full Italian collaboration.

The outcome of the ongoing investigation would be made public once there is “solid information,” according to a statement by the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police and security agencies.

“The expanded investigating team tasked with uncovering the circumstances of the killing of the young Italian man continues its work round the clock, in full collaboration with the Italian side,” the ministry said.

However, Italy’s foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, said Monday that Rome would evaluate the progress of Italian investigators in Cairo to verify that they have received the full cooperation Italy expects of its partner.

“It is clear that we will not be satisfied with easy reconstructions and convenient truths,” he said. “It is also clear that the passage of time will not diminish our commitment to this question.”

Regeni, 28, was living in Cairo to research Egyptian labor movements for his doctorate from Britain’s Cambridge University. His body was found on the side of a road west of Cairo on Feb. 3, nine days after he disappeared. His funeral was held on Friday in his hometown of Fiumicello in northeastern Italy.

At the time, Italian state TV said Italian investigators have spoken to a witness who told them that two alleged plainclothes policemen stopped Regeni and escorted him away as he walked from his Cairo apartment to the subway station.

Egyptian authorities initially blamed Regeni’s death on a road accident. A second autopsy, done in Italy, determined that he suffered a fatal fracture of a cervical vertebra, either from a strong blow to the neck or from forced twisting of the neck.

There were multiple fractures in his hands, feet and elsewhere, and his face was heavily bruised, the autopsy found.

Regeni disappeared on Jan. 25, the day Egypt marks the anniversary of the start of the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. This year, Egyptian police and security agents were out in force on Cairo’s streets, determined to quash any protests marking the occasion.

Egypt’s handling of the Regeni’s death partially mirrors its protracted probe and handling of the Oct. 31 crash of a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula in which all 224 on board were killed.
More than three months after the tragedy, Egypt is still investigating that incident and has only said that it’s premature to determine with any certainty the cause of the crash before a multinational investigation completes its work and publishes its findings.

Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility for the downing of the Russian aircraft, saying it had placed a bomb aboard the plane inside a soda can.

The head of Russia’s FSB security service, Alexander Bortnikov, said on Nov. 17 that the plane was brought down by a homemade bomb placed on board in a “terrorist” act. The plane crashed shortly taking off from Egypt’s Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Imadeldeen Hussein, editor of the influential independent daily al-Shororuk, wrote Monday that if Egyptian security agents were behind Regeni’s killing - an assumption he labeled as “disastrous” - the government would be best served if it acts transparently and announces it rather than emulate its handling of the Russian plane’s tragedy.

“If we have information, it is best if we announce it, no matter how painful it is, so we don’t pay double the price in the future,” he wrote. “Regardless of what happened, we must tell the truth and quickly announce it. Postponing or delaying that is a weapon against us.”

Egypt and Italy have grown close in the past two years, with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi forging a friendship. The two countries are bound by close economic ties and have been coordinating efforts on how to handle the rise of Islamic militancy in Libya, Egypt’s neighbor and Italy’s former colony. But Regeni’s death may have injected a sour note in the relationship.

“I again express condolences to Giulio’s family and I say that which we have told the Egyptians: ‘Friendship is a precious thing and it is possible only in truth,’“ Renzi said on Italy’s state radio on Friday.

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