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Italy summons Egypt ambassador over probe into PhD student's killing

No one in Egypt has been arrested or charged in murder of Giulio Regeni, who was killed in January 2016
Regeni's family members follow his coffin during funeral on 12 February 2016 (AFP/File photo)

Italy's foreign minister summoned Egypt's ambassador and urged Cairo to respect its commitment to move quickly and bring to justice those responsible for the murder of Giulio Regeni.

In a statement released on Friday, the Italian foreign ministry said there was "strong disquiet" in Rome over the way the case was being handled.

Regeni, a 28-year-old Italian PhD student, was killed in Cairo in January 2016 and despite months of cooperation between Egyptian and Italian prosecutors, no one has been arrested or charged in relation to the killing.

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 Egypt's domestic security agency.

"Minister [Enzo] Moavero expressed Italy's need to see concrete investigative developments," the foreign ministry said in its statement.

The ministry said the Egyptian ambassador had assured Moavero that Cairo's determination to "shed light on the case cannot be questioned".

The Egyptian envoy added that investigators in Egypt were committed to pursuing their inquiry "despite the difficulties encountered", the Italian ministry said.

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Egyptian and Italian prosecutors met earlier this week to discuss the state of the investigation, but judicial sources in Rome said the Cairo team failed to deliver a promised breakthrough.

Two sources with direct knowledge of the matter in Rome told Reuters that 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.

In a largely symbolic move, the president of Italy's lower house of parliament has said he will suspend ties with Egypt's parliament until there is progress in Cairo towards resolving the case.

In response, Egypt's parliament said on Friday it regretted what it called the Italian chamber's hasty decision to anticipate the results of the investigation.

"The house of representatives affirms that the Egyptian state has a firm interest in disclosing the circumstances of the killing of Mr Regeni, since the incident happened on its territory," said a statement carried by Egyptian state news agency MENA.

Italian pressure 'vital' to ensure justice

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, told Middle East Eye earlier on Friday 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.”

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 the meeting between the two teams of investigators.

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

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

- Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch

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

The case has strained ties between Egypt and Italy, which recalled its ambassador in April 2016. Relations were restored in August 2017 when Rome said it would return its envoy to Cairo and continue to search for Regeni's killers.