The lawyer representing the family of Giulio Regeni says she has compiled a list of at least 20 people suspected of involvement in the death of the Italian PhD student, who was tortured and killed in Egypt nearly three years ago.
Alessandra Ballerini made the comments at a press conference in Rome on Wednesday alongside Regeni’s parents and their supporters. She said the list was based on an extensive investigation with a legal team in Egypt, and that most of the suspects were generals and colonels in the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency (NSA).
“It is very unlikely that President [Abdel Fattah al-]Sisi was unaware of what was going on,” Ballerini said.
Regeni, a PhD candidate who was researching independent trade unions in Egypt, disappeared from a metro station on January 25, 2016 — the fifth anniversary of the 2011 revolution — while on his way to meet a friend in downtown Cairo. His body was found several days later, bearing marks of severe torture, on the side of a highway on the outskirts of the city.
Among the names Ballerini identified were the five Egyptian security officials Rome prosecutors placed under official investigation on Tuesday. They include Major General Tarek Saber, a senior official at the NSA at the time of Regeni’s death, who retired in 2017; Major Sherif Magdy, who also served at the NSA where he was in charge of the team that placed Regini under surveillance; Colonel Hesham Helmy, who served at a security center in charge of policing the Cairo district where Regeni lived; Colonel Asser Kamal, who was the head of a police department in charge of street works and discipline; and junior police officer Mahmoud Negm, according to the Associated Press.
“These people should fear being arrested when they travel abroad because they murdered an Italian citizen,” Ballerini said.
The lawyer focused most closely on the role of Saber and Magdy in the press conference. She said Saber attempted to exonerate himself when he was questioned by Italian investigators, admitting to surveilling Regeni, but denying any involvement in his death because they ascertained he was not a threat and was residing in Egypt legally to research his PhD.
Ballerini also named Mohammed Abdallah, the head of the Egyptian street vendors union, who acted as an informant for the NSA and who secretly filmed Regeni during a meeting as he attempted to get him to provide funds for his personal use. According to the New York Times, Abdallah previously made a statement detailing his meetings with Magdy, his handler, who he said had promised him a reward once the Regeni case was closed.
Ballerini also named Mohamed al-Sayyed, a lawyer and Regeni’s roommate, who allowed NSA officials to search the apartment in the month before Regeni disappeared, the New York Times reported.
The five security officials are apparently a pared-down selection of those originally marked for investigation. Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi indicated to Egypt’s ambassador on Friday that Italy had “shown understanding” in removing the names of high-profile officials from an original list of suspects, according to an Egyptian official who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity.
Moavero’s comments align with what Mada Masr reported in April 2017, when an Italian government official disclosed that Italian investigators had narrowed down an initial list of 26 suspects to 10 Egyptian officials they believed to be responsible for Regeni’s death.
In September 2016, Egypt’s Public Prosecutor Nabil Sadek publicly admitted that Egypt’s NSA placed Regeni under police surveillance, suspecting him of espionage, but Egypt has repeatedly denied any involvement in his death.
Egyptian prosecutors have rejected requests by Italy to treat security officials as suspects. A judicial source told the state news agency MENA on Sunday that Egyptian prosecutors refused to question any security officials, a request first made by Italy in December 2017. Instead, Egypt submitted a request for an investigation into Regeni’s entry into Egypt on a tourist rather than a student visa, MENA reported.
A high-level national security meeting was held in Cairo last night to coordinate Egypt’s strategy in response to the latest developments in the case, according to a senior Egyptian government official who spoke to Mada Masr on the condition of anonymity.
The case has received widespread attention in Italy, with banners hanging in city squares bearing Regeni’s face alongside the words verita per Giulio (“truth for Giulio”), and there has been sustained public pressure on the government to act.
“We have received strong support from Italian citizens,” Regeni’s mother, Paola Deffendi, said. “We have to keep on fighting. Egypt must be aware of the fact that we won’t give up.”
Prior to the press conference, Regeni’s parents met in the Chamber of Deputies building with Roberto Fico, the president of the chamber and a vocal critic of Egypt’s handling of the case, who announced last week that Italy’s parliament would freeze all diplomatic relations with Egypt’s parliament until there was a “real turning point” in the investigation and the start of a trial.
“Relations between Italy and Egypt have been in jeopardy for the last three years, because an Italian citizen was kidnapped, tortured and killed in Egypt,” Fico told reporters after the meeting. “Italy is willing to jeopardize all social, cultural, political and diplomatic relations if Egypt does not demonstrate that it wants to take a step forward.”
Meanwhile, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Tuesday that Italy wants Egypt to provide the names of the people responsible. “We have been waiting for three years,” Salvini said. “I want to maintain good relations with Egypt and I’ll do everything to have good economic, cultural, trade and social relations with a friendly country. But as an Italian, I expect the names and surnames of the culprits.”
Despite increasing criticism from some within the Italian government, relations with Egypt have not been significantly affected by the latest developments. An Italian delegation this week took part in EDEX, Egypt’s first international defense exhibition that has been highly touted by Egyptian authorities, and Egypt’s air defense chief reportedly signed an agreement with the Italian delegation.
Regeni’s father, Claudio said the struggle for justice in the case was an international one. “This battle is not just for our son Giulio, but for every Giulio in Egypt and in every other country around the world,” he said.