An Italian judge has ordered four high-ranking members of Egypt’s National Security Agency (NSA) to stand trial for their suspected role in the abduction, torture and murder of Giulio Regeni, an Italian student who was found dead on the outskirts of capital Cairo five years ago.
Regeni, a 28-year-old doctoral student researching trade unions in Egypt, disappeared in Cairo on January 25, 2016. His body was found on the side of a highway nine days later, bearing extensive signs of torture.
In Tuesday’s long-awaited preliminary hearing, the judge agreed that the evidence collected by Rome prosecutors during a four-year-long investigation is sufficient to press charges against General Tariq Sabir, Colonel Usham Helmi, Colonel Athar Kamel Mohamed Ibrahim and Major Magdi Ibrahim Abdelal Sharif for aggravated kidnapping. Sharif is also being accused of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder.
The judge also ruled that the suspects failed voluntarily, and not due to a lack of information, to attend the trial, allowing the court case to proceed in absentia.
Guilio’s parents, Paola Deffendi and Claudio Regeni, together with the family’s lawyer Allesandra Ballerini, were present in the court for the closed-door session. The full trial will open on October 14, a judicial source told Al Jazeera.
The judge’s decision is a turning point for the Italian public that has been gripped for years by the Regeni story with his parents keeping up a relentless online campaign to pressure authorities to seek justice in the case and not prioritise bilateral economic interests.
Egyptian officials have denied any involvement in the killing. In late December, prosecutors in Cairo ruled out any charges against the four officers.
After the Italian prosecutors concluded their probe in December naming the four agents and accusing them, about 10 more people came forward to give their accounts of the story. Of these, three testimonies were deemed reliable and were officially added to the case in mid-April.
One of those witnesses was a friend of Mohammed Abdallah, a trade union leader Regeni was researching as part of his thesis. The witness told investigators he had met Abdallah on February 2, a day before Regeni’s body was found.
Abdallah told the witness that he was at the NSA office when he heard a phone conversation between two officials discussing Regeni’s death and how his body should be maimed to disguise the killing as part of a robbery.
Egypt’s interior minister said in March 2016 that security forces had killed five members of a criminal gang in possession of some of the researcher’s belongings. But Italian prosecutors dismissed the claim as a cover-up.