The Italian judiciary tried four Egyptian police officers on suspicion of killing Regeni

The trial of four Egyptian police officers in absentia began in Italy on Thursday, on suspicion of the brutal murder in Cairo of Italian student Giulio Regeni five years ago, while the first session focused on the possibility of dropping the case.

The officers are accused of kidnapping, conspiracy to murder and causing grievous bodily harm to the Italian student, in the case that sparked outrage in Italy and negatively affected relations with Cairo.

Regeni's parents and sister attended the hearing in the underground room of Rebibbia prison, which has often been the scene of mafia trials.

Regeni, 28, was kidnapped in January 2016 in Egypt, where he was researching for a doctorate at Cambridge University.

His body was found lying naked, bearing signs of severe torture, in a suburb of Cairo.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio welcomed the holding of the first hearing in Rome, saying it was an "unexpected result in the weeks following the discovery of Giulio's body."

The government confirmed that it would join the proceedings with a civil suit to obtain compensation, in symbolic support for the Regeni family.
But the trial may fail before it even begins.

The court must first determine whether the four suspects, whom the prosecution says are members of the Egyptian security apparatus, were aware of the judicial procedures taken against them, as required by law, while Egypt refused to provide contact details.

At a preliminary hearing in May, a judge considered that media coverage would make the four officers aware of their investigation. This decision may be upheld or reversed by the court on Thursday.

"After five and a half years, we want a trial," said Alessandra Ballerini, a lawyer for the Regeni family, adding that what happened to the dead man had caused "tremendous pain".

She told the court that there was "sufficient evidence" that the defendants were aware of the court's proceedings.

The four officers are, as their names appear in the court documents, Major General Tariq Saber, Colonel Asser Kamel Muhammad Ibrahim, Hussam Helmy, and Major Ibrahim Abdel-Al Sharif, who is accused of carrying out the killing.

AFP contacted one of the four officers in Egypt, but he declined to comment.

Italian investigators believe Regeni was kidnapped and murdered on the misconception that he was a foreign spy.

Prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco told the court that eyewitness testimony and other "important elements of proof" incriminate the security officers for the murder.

He stated that the four officers were not only aware of the trial, but "acted systematically and continuously to slow down and obstruct the investigation."

He added that they were all interrogated in 2018 by the Egyptian security service, five months after Italy informed the Egyptian authorities that they were under investigation, and it was “unlikely” that the security had not told them that they were official suspects.

But Aser Kamel's defense lawyer, who was appointed by the court, Trankelino Sarno, said the case should be closed.

"The accused don't know anything," he added. They don't know what they are accused of. Nor are we here today. And no one defends them.”

He pointed out that the Public Prosecution Office has few details about the four defendants, and even erred in knowing the age and status of his client, saying that he is only a "simple policeman."

Regeni's body was found nine days after his disappearance. His mother later said the body was so disfigured that she could only recognize her son by "the tip of his nose".

Ballerini reported that five of his teeth were broken as well as 15 of his bones, and letters were engraved on his body.

As part of his doctoral work, Regeni conducted research on Egyptian trade unions, a particularly sensitive political issue.
His death sparked new criticism of Egypt's human rights record under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

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