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Egyptian police killed Italian student for 'spying': report

A protester marks the third anniversary of Giulio Regeni's murder in January (Getty)

Date of publication: 5 May, 2019

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New evidence from an overheard conversation suggests that Egyptian police beat and killed Italian doctoral student Giulio Regini in 2016 because they believed he was spying for Britain.

Egyptian police arrested and beat an Italian student who was later found murdered because they thought he was a British spy, according to fresh testimony reported by Italian newspapers on Sunday.

The account of how Giulio Regeni, a 28-year-old doctoral researcher at Britain's Cambridge University, disappeared in Cairo in January 2016 came from a witness who overheard an Egyptian intelligence agent speaking about "the Italian guy", the Italian La Repubblica newspaper said.

The conversation about the tumultuous situation in Egypt in Arabic took place at a police convention in an unnamed African country in 2017 and was reported to Italian prosecutors who have now asked Egyptian authorities for more information.

The Italian foreign ministry tweeted on Sunday that it "supports the Rome prosecutor's request for information, in the strong hope that it contributes to the path of justice for Giulio Regeni."

The unnamed eavesdropper learned the Egyptian agent's name when he exchanged business cards with a colleague, La Repubblica said.

He was one of five Egypt agents Italian prosecutors said in December last year that they were investigating for involvement in the murder of Regeni, who disappeared on his way to a Cairo metro station on January 25. 

"We thought he was an English spy, we picked him up, I went and after putting him in the car we had to beat him. I myself hit him several times in the face," the intelligence agent said, according to the Correre della Sera newspaper. 

Regeni's body was found days later by a roadside bearing extensive marks of torture in a case that strained the traditionally close relations between Cairo and Rome, which has accused Egypt of insufficient cooperation in the probe. 

Italian prosecutors believe the new testimony is credible and have sent it along with other details to Egyptian prosecutors, requesting in particular the agent's whereabouts at the time of the overheard conversation in the summer of 2017. 

The Egyptian government has always denied suggestions that its security services were involved in the death of Regeni, who was researching Egyptian trade unions, a sensitive subject in Egypt.

Independent Egyptian trade unions played a pivotal role in the 2011 Egyptian revolution and the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has sought to marginalise and control them ever since the 2013 military coup.

Frustrated at the slow pace of the probe, Italy withdrew its ambassador to Egypt in April 2016, but sent a new envoy to Cairo the following year. 

Egyptian authorities initially suggested Regeni died in a traffic accident, but later said he was killed by a criminal gang that was subsequently wiped out in a shootout with police.

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