Giulio Regeni was found dead outside Cairo in early February last year

Italian prosecutors have named several members of the Egyptian national security agency as suspects to the alleged torture and murder of Cambridge PhD student Giulio Regeni, after three years of not naming any Egyptians in connection to the case.

Giulio Regeni was a PhD candidate of the University of Cambridge who went missing in Cairo in 2016 while conducting his research on trade unions in Egypt. He was later discovered to have been killed.

Italian authorities had been suspicious about the fact that Regeni had been followed by Egyptian national security agency officers, but “were frustrated by a lack of collaboration from Cairo to identify them”.

Egyptian authorities have also suggested other reasons for Regeni’s death, including his sexual activities and membership in an antiquities smuggling ring.

They also shot five gang members whom they claimed to have killed Regeni in 2016. However, these five men were later exculpated by the public prosecutor.

The case has significantly strained relations between Italy – where Regeni was born and grew up in – and Egypt, with Italy recalling its ambassador to the country between April 2016 and September 2017.

Italian prosecutors’ named suspects include Major Sherif Magdy Abdel Aal and Osman Helmy of Egypt’s national security agency. They are believed to have recruited Mohammed Abdullah, head of the Egyptian street vendors’ union, to spy on Regeni during his research, as news outlets Corriere della Serra and la Repubblica have reported.

Abdullah had filmed a meeting between him and Regeni, where he attempted to coerce Regeni into providing him with funds for personal use. The film was aired on Egyptian television.

It is also suggested that Abdullah might have mistaken Regeni for a spy as he told l’Espresso that Regeni was “asking too many questions.”

One of the suspects, Abdel Aal, had ordered the arrest of the head of the board of trustees for the Egyptian commission for rights and freedoms (ECRF) in 2016 – whose lawyers form the Egyptian legal counsel for Regeni’s family – under a range of charges, including calling to overthrow the regime and belonging to a terrorist group.


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The Italian prosecution were recently left frustrated by a lack of progress in the Regeni investigation following the deputy public prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco’s meeting with Egyptian authorities in Cairo, according to several Italian news outlets.

Regeni’s case has sparked international attention and suspicion toward the role of the Egyptian state. Last September, a lawyer who was investigating the case disappeared.

In December last year, Italian newspapers accused Regeni’s supervisor, Dr. Maha Abdelrahman, of being uncooperative with the investigation, claiming that she could only remember selective facts and that she had on more than one occasion been “insincere”.