Italian Student Stirred Suspicion before He Died in Egypt

Manila Bulletin, August 12, 2016 | Go to article overview

Italian Student Stirred Suspicion before He Died in Egypt


By Michael Georgy

Cambridge, England -- Ten days before he vanished, Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni made a Skype call from his Cairo flat to an academic in Germany.

It was the middle of January and Egyptian police were braced for political protests ahead of the fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Regeni sounded anxious.

"We did not talk very much as it was expected that we will catch up at some point later," said Georgeta Auktor, a researcher at the German Development Institute in Bonn, where Regeni had spent a few weeks in 2015.

"He said he feels he needs to be careful where he goes in the city and whom he meets."

They did not speak again.

Regeni's body was found on the side of the Cairo-Alexandria highway on Feb. 3 by passengers on a bus that had broken down, according to a police source. Egyptian forensics officials said the body showed signs of torture, including cigarette burns and beatings.

Regeni's mother, Paola, later told Italy's parliament that her son's injuries were so bad she identified him only by the tip of his nose. Egyptian human rights groups said the torture suggested Egyptian security services had killed the student, allegations those services and the government have strongly denied.

In April, intelligence and security sources told Reuters that police had arrested Regeni outside a Cairo metro station on Jan. 25 and then transferred him to a compound run by Homeland Security. The government and security services deny he was ever in custody.

It remains unclear who killed Regeni or why. But piecing together his activity in the months leading up to his death, it is apparent that two factors put the student at risk: his passionate interest in political and economic issues and his belief that Egypt needed change. Three Egyptian security sources have told Reuters that Regeni raised the suspicions of Egypt's security services because he met unionists and was researching politically sensitive subjects.

"Homeland Security had monitored Regeni with a number of opposition leaders and labor unions. He attended several meetings," one of the sources said.

A second security source said: "He is a foreigner and does not work in the media ... and this is what made Homeland Security follow and monitor him."

A third security source said that Regeni's meetings were suspicious because they took place at "a time in which many nations were intervening in what is happening in Egypt." This, he said, raised the possibility that the Italian was gathering information for a foreign nation. …

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