CAIRO – Egyptian prosecutors have rejected an Italian request to treat several policemen as suspects in the 2016 killing of an Italian graduate student in Cairo, saying there is not enough evidence to warrant such a move, according to Egypt's state-run news agency.
The report, published Monday in Egypt's state-run newspapers, said the request was made during talks in Cairo last week between Italian and Egyptian prosecutors. It said the Egyptians turned down a similar request a year ago.
The policemen in question are the same ones assigned surveillance of the student, Giulio Regeni, because of his research into independent trade unions in Egypt, said the Middle East News Agency report, which quoted an unnamed judicial official.
Egyptian security officials said the six policemen are from the National Security Agency, which handles cases involving terrorism and political dissidents. They did not name the six. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Italian media reports spoke of seven Egyptian policemen, not six, but there was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.
Italy has been pressing Egypt to speed up the investigation into the killing of Regeni, a Cambridge University graduate student who went missing in Cairo in January 2016. His body was found on the side of a highway several days later bearing signs of severe torture, which activists and rights groups say is common in Egyptian detention facilities.
Egyptian authorities have denied involvement in Regeni's death, but acknowledged that police placed him under surveillance because of the nature of his research. Regeni went missing in central Cairo on Jan. 25, 2016, the anniversary of the 2011 uprising, when police were out in force throughout the city to prevent demonstrations.
Egyptian authorities initially said he was in a road accident. Later, authorities said police had killed members of a criminal gang who were found with Regeni's identifying documents, but the authorities backed away from the claim after relatives of the slain men said they had nothing to do with the killing.
The standoff over naming suspects comes as Italy is increasing pressure on Egypt to wrap up the investigation and hold the culprits accountable.
Last week, Italy's Foreign Ministry summoned the Egyptian ambassador to Rome to ask Cairo to "act rapidly" in the investigation. Italy's lower house meanwhile decided to break parliamentary ties with Egypt, a move that was met with indignation by Egyptian lawmakers.
Regeni's death sparked widespread outrage in Italy and demands for justice. Italy recalled its ambassador for a year amid rising tensions, but the envoy returned in 2017. The two countries have close ties based on major energy projects and a shared interest in restoring stability in neighboring Libya and halting illegal migration to Europe.