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Italy set to name Egyptian suspects over Giulio Regeni disappearance

Italian prosecutors' move comes as Rome has grown increasingly frustrated with pace of Egyptian investigation
Regeni's body, found almost a week after he disappeard in January 2016, showed signs of torture (AFP)

Italian prosecutors will place two members of Egypt's security forces under official investigation next week over their alleged involvement in the 2016 disappearance of student Giulio Regeni, judicial sources said.

Italy's parliament will also suspend all ties with its Egyptian counterpart until Egypt makes progress in finding out who was responsible for the 28-year-old PhD student's death, the president of the parliament's lower house told an Italian state-run TV station.

Italian pressure is vital to ensure that the killers don’t get away with their crime

- Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch

Regeni disappeared in Cairo in January 2016. His body was found almost a week later and a post mortem showed he had been tortured before his death.

Italian and Egyptian investigators have been working together to try to solve the crime and have held regular meetings in Rome and Cairo to pool their information.

Two sources with direct knowledge of the matter in Rome said Italy was increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of the investigation and had decided to press ahead unilaterally and register the names of the Egyptian suspects.

Italian media reported on Thursday that seven suspects would be placed under investigation, but a senior legal source told Reuters that only two men, both members of Egypt's National Security Agency, were certain to be placed under investigation.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, told Middle East Eye that the Italian parliament's decision to cut ties with Egypt shows it has not forgotten about Regeni's brutal murder or the "far from adequate" Egyptian investigation.

"The Egyptian government should show it is serious about finding and punishing those responsible for Regeni’s torture and murder by fully cooperating," she said. "Italian pressure is vital to ensure that the killers don’t get away with their crime.”

'The right decision'

Egyptian officials have repeatedly denied any involvement in Regeni's death. The general prosecutor's office in Cairo said it had no comment to make beyond a statement it issued on Wednesday following a meeting between Italian and Egyptian investigators.

That statement said that the two sides had agreed that "investigations are going well" and that they would "do everything in their power to find the perpetrators".

Being placed under official investigation in Italy does not imply guilt and does not automatically lead to a trial. The two will be investigated for allegedly kidnapping Regeni.

No one is being placed under investigation at this point for torturing or killing Regeni, the sources said.

The president of the lower house of parliament, Roberto Fico, confirmed that prosecutors in Rome were set to open the official investigation against Egyptian citizens.

"This is the right decision, it is strong and courageous. It is also necessary given that the Cairo prosecutor is not moving forward with this case," Fico told state television RAI.

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He added that he had visited Cairo in September and was told that the case would soon start to move forward.

"But nothing has happened. There has been no change," he said.

Regeni disappeared on 25 January 2016, the fifth anniversary of the start of the 2011 uprising that ended the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak.

Intelligence and security sources told Reuters in 2016 that police had arrested Regeni outside a Cairo metro station and then transferred him to a compound run by Homeland Security.

The case has strained ties between Egypt and Italy, which recalled its ambassador in April 2016. Relations were restored in August last year when Rome said it would return its envoy to Cairo and continue to search for Regeni's killers.

The Italian foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday that finding those responsible for Regeni's "barbarous killing" remained the top priority for Italian-Egyptian relations.

"The foreign ministry will take the necessary steps to call upon Egyptian authorities to renew with determination the commitment, often expressed, even at the highest level, to achieve concrete and meaningful results that will allow full justice to be done," it said. 

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