Italy's FM visits Egypt, first since killing of researcher

Italy's foreign minister said Sunday he was pleased to hear from Egyptian officials that they are committed to completing an investigation into the 2016 killing of an Italian graduate student in the capital Cairo with a "concrete result."

Enzo Moavero Milanesi arrived in Egypt on the first visit by a top Italian diplomat since the death of Giulio Regeni. His trip comes on the heels of a visit last month by Italian Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini.

Milanesi met with Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo. He said at a news conference with Shoukry that they discussed "important" topics including Libya, illegal migration and the controversial death of Regeni.

"I was pleased to hear from the minister and also the Egyptian government strong willingness to bring judicial inquiry to concrete result," he said of the Regeni case. "We are confident that justice will be brought in this really tragic and painful case."

Regeni, 28, was a Cambridge University doctoral student researching labor movements in Egypt when he was abducted on Jan. 25, 2016. His body was found along a roadside several days later bearing marks of extensive torture, of the kind that activists and rights groups say is widespread within Egyptian detention facilities.

The case roiled Cairo's relations with Rome, with Regeni's family and Italian media accusing Egyptian security forces of torturing and killing him. Italy withdrew its ambassador in April 2016, saying Egypt was not cooperating in an Italian investigation. An ambassador returned last September.

Egypt's security services have denied any involvement in Regeni's abduction or death.

"We have been working hard to overcome the challenge that (Egyptian-Italian) relations have faced," Shoukry said.

El-Sissi repeated a pledge to the Italian minister that Egypt would help bring Regeni's killers to justice, according to a statement by his office.

Since Regeni's body was found, the Egyptian government has suggested several alternative scenarios for his death.

It initially claimed Regeni was killed by gang members after security forces killed five members of a kidnapping crew in a raid and circulated photos of Regeni's ID cards officials said were found at the scene. That explanation was widely dismissed, including in the Italian media, which has closely followed the case.

The Egyptian president and his government routinely blame unnamed parties for the country's woes. Earlier this year, el-Sissi cast aside the gang killing theory and accused unnamed parties of killing Regeni in a failed plot to sabotage Egyptian-Italian relations.

Regeni's research would have drawn scrutiny from security agencies. He went missing in central Cairo when police were out in force to prevent protests on the fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. His main contact in the unofficial street vendors' union later said he told police that Regeni was a spy.

Egyptian and Italian investigators have been working together to retrieve surveillance footage from the Cairo subway system as part of a joint investigation. They said in June that footage from the system on the day of Regeni's disappearance does not include images of him. However, there are gaps in the footage which need "further sophisticated examination," they said.

Egypt has been waging a fierce crackdown on dissent since the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013. Thousands of people, mainly Islamists, have been jailed as well as several prominent secular activists. Pro-government media routinely portray Egypt as the target of foreign conspiracies aimed at destabilizing the country.