CAIRO – The body of an Italian student who disappeared in Cairo was found half-naked by the roadside with cigarette burns and other signs of torture, a senior Egyptian prosecutor said on Thursday.
In Rome, Italy’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Egyptian ambassador to express concern over the death of Giulio Regeni, who disappeared on Jan. 25, the five-year anniversary of the uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
The body of the 28-year-old Cambridge University doctoral student has been taken to a Cairo morgue, a morgue worker and Egyptian security officials said.
The officials said an investigation had begun.
“What we are certainly doing is urging the Egyptian government to allow Italian authorities a joint investigation, to return the boy’s body to his family as soon as possible, to collaborate. We want the truth about what happened,” Italy’s foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, told RAI state TV.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi later repeated the request that Regeni’s body be returned as soon as possible.
Regeni had disappeared after leaving home in a smart district of Cairo to meet a friend downtown, according to another friend. His body was found at the beginning of the main road between Cairo and Alexandria, security officials said.
Last year, Islamic State militants kidnapped a Croatian man from the outskirts of Cairo and later beheaded him, but such incidents are rare and there was a heavy police presence in downtown Cairo when Regeni went missing.
Rights groups say Egyptians are often detained by police on little evidence and beaten or coerced. Scores have disappeared since 2013. Egypt denies allegations of police brutality.
Although the cause of death is still unclear, Regeni’s case could hurt its efforts to project an image of stability and attract more tourism and foreign investment after years of political turmoil and Islamist militant violence.
The Italian Foreign Ministry’s director-general, Michele Valensise, “urgently” summoned Egyptian Ambassador Amr Mostafa Kamal Helmy after Regeni’s body was found on Wednesday.
The ministry said it expected “maximum collaboration at all levels in light of the exceptional gravity of what happened.
Italian Industry Minister Federica Guidi cut short a two-day visit to Egypt on Wednesday after Regeni’s death was reported.
A copy of Regeni’s CV, provided by another friend, indicated he spoke four languages and had won several scholarships. His research focused on trade unions in Egypt after the 2011 uprising that ended Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Islamist militants have killed hundreds of police and soldiers since the army toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 after mass protests against his rule. They have also targeted Westerners.
Regni appears to have been tortured, officials said Thursday, prompting furious demands from Rome for the speedy arrest of his killers.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi phoned Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to demand that Giulio Regeni’s body be immediately repatriated and Italian experts be given access to the investigation into his death.
“We have to find those responsible for this horrible crime and bring them to justice,” Renzi was quoted as telling Sisi.
Italy also summoned Cairo’s ambassador in Rome to express its “bewilderment over the tragic death” of Regeni, 28.
The Cambridge University PhD student’s half-naked body was found in a roadside ditch on the outskirts of Cairo early on Wednesday, public prosecutor Hossam Nassar told AFP.
“This is a murder,” Nassar said.
Ahmed Negi, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation, said the body showed clear signs of violence.
“There are bruises and injuries on the body, especially on the face and back. The body was naked from the waist down,” Negi said.
“So far we are considering this to be a criminal act, but we are waiting for the forensic report and the police investigation to be complete.”
An initial prosecution report seen by an AFP reporter said that the injuries included apparent cigarette-burn marks near the eyes and on the feet.
Italian Foreign Minister Gentiloni said Italy needed to be involved in the investigation “because we want the truth to come out, every last bit of it.”
“We owe that much to a family that has been stricken in an irreparable way and, at the very least, has the right to know the truth.”
The foreign ministry said the Egyptian ambassador, Amr Mostafa Kamal Helmy, had given assurances that the Egyptian authorities would do their utmost to find those responsible for what he termed a “criminal act.”
In reaction to the news, Italian Economic Development Minister Federica Guidi, who was in Cairo when Regeni’s body was discovered, canceled the final day of a trade mission involving around 60 Italian companies.
She had hours earlier urged Sisi to intervene personally in the investigation into Regeni’s disappearance, underlining the potential for the case to disrupt normally close ties between Rome and Cairo.
Renzi was the first Western leader to receive former army chief Sisi after his 2013 overthrow of Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met Gentiloni in London and the two “agreed to increase cooperation and coordination between the Egyptian and Italian sides to determine the cause of the death,” Shoukry’s ministry said in a statement.
Regeni, whose studies included Arabic and Arab literature, was from Fiumicello near Udine in northeastern Italy.
He was in Cairo doing research for his doctoral thesis on trade unions in Egypt and was last seen when he left his home with the intention of traveling by metro to meet a friend in the city center.
Cairo was almost deserted on Jan. 25, as Egyptian authorities had clamped down across the capital on what was the fifth anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising that ended longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign.
Cambridge mourned the loss of its student. “We’re deeply saddened to hear of the death of Giulio Regeni. Our thoughts are with his family and friends,” the renowned university said on Twitter.