ROME – Italy kept pressure on Egypt Monday to cooperate in finding who tortured and murdered an Italian student doing research in Cairo, insisting it wouldn’t accept convenient answers in the case.
“We won’t settle for purported truths, as we have said on the occasion of the two arrests initially linked to the death of Giulio Regeni,” Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni insisted in an interview published in La Repubblica newspaper.
“We want those who are really responsible to be found out, and be punished on the basis of law,” the minister said.
Italian media have honed in on the hypothesis that elements in Egypt’s security force, which have been criticized by human rights champions, had arrested the young man before his death because he was in contact with Egyptian labor activists as part of his research.
But Egypt’s interior minister retorted that his country’s investigators are working hard to solve the case and insisted Regeni had never been arrested, let alone picked up by his country’s security forces.
Asked at a Cairo news conference if Regeni had been detained, Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar replied: “It didn’t happen. We stressed that to many officials. We stress it once again.”
Asked if Regeni was a spy, the Egyptian minister replied: “Not at all. We are dealing with a crime committed against a foreign national.
“There were rumors and talk in the press hinting and linking the security apparatus to the incident,” the minister said. “This is rejected. This is not the policy of the Egyptian security service.”
Gentiloni’s remarks about “purported truths” referred to statements last week by some Egyptian authorities — later denied — that two suspects had been picked up for questioning in the case.
An Italian Justice Ministry undersecretary, Gennaro Migliore, had even sharper words for Egypt’s authorities Monday as gruesome details emerged about the 28-year-old student’s brutal end.
Regeni’s “massacre is a very grave stain on a fundamentally authoritarian regime,” Migliore said.
The Cambridge University doctorate candidate had been living in Cairo for a few months, doing research into Egyptian labor movements and other social issues.
Regeni vanished on the evening of Jan. 25, as he traveled by subway after telling friends he was going to a birthday party. That date coincided with the anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian uprising. Egyptian security forces were out in force, intent on quashing any signs of protest.
Rights groups have accused Egyptian police of regularly torturing detainees, and in the past year, of detaining suspected activists or Islamists without ever reporting their arrests.
Egyptian authorities informed Italian authorities on Feb. 3 that Regeni’s body had been found along a highway on Cairo’s outskirts. At first, Egyptian officials blamed the death on a road accident.
The Egyptian interior minister, Abdel-Ghaffar, told reporters on Monday that the body had been found by commuters whose vehicle had broken down.
After an initial autopsy performed by Egyptian authorities in Cairo, a second was performed Saturday in Rome after the body was flown from Egypt. The Italian autopsy found that Regeni had suffered extensive bruises and many fractures, and died after a neck vertebra was broken, perhaps by a heavy blow or a violent twisting of the head.
La Repubblica on Monday reported that the nails on all his toes and fingers had been ripped off, and that all his fingers had been broken.
Pending laboratory results of tissue and fluid samples are expected to help understand how much time elapsed between Regeni’s death and the discovery of his body.
Italy needs Egypt to help in keeping Northern Africa out of the hands of the Islamic State group, which has made steady gains in neighboring Libya. Italy, along with the United States, has been urging Libya’s rival governments to unite, to reduce the chaos gripping the oil-and-gas rich country since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted and killed in 2011.
Regeni was being honored by Italy’s leading museum for Egyptian art and history. Turin’s Egyptian Museum said it is dedicating a room to the young man, “barbarously slain for having defended his ideals and his courageous activity of research.”
Maggie Michael contributed from Cairo.