Al Araby investigation reveals damning details of Egyptian officers' involvement in Regeni torture and murder

Al Araby investigation reveals damning details of Egyptian officers' involvement in Regeni torture and murder
Al Araby TV on Thursday aired a damning investigative documentary detailing the final moments of Italian student Giulio Regeni, who was detained and tortured in Egypt before being killed.
9 min read
23 April, 2021
Regeni was killed in Cairo in 2016 [Getty]
A documentary by The New Arab's Arabic-language sister service Al-Araby TV investigating the death of an Italian student murdered in Cairo has revealed damning new details surrounding the role of Egyptian security officers in his death.

The television programme (Shifra or 'Code') aired on Thursday evening, gained exclusive access to two new witnesses who said that Giulio Regeni was detained, interrogated and tortured by Egyptian military personnel.

Italian prosecutors have already accused four men of the murder and are preparing for their 29 April preliminary hearing  to determine whether Egyptian National Security Agency General Tariq Sabir and his subordinates - Colonels Athar Kamel Mohamed Ibrahim, Uhsam Helmi and Major Magdi Ibrahim Abdelal Sharif - can face trial in absentia.  

However, the Al-Araby investigation found that Regeni was seen at the Egyptian military intelligence headquarters on the 28th and 29th of January 2016.

The first witness, dubbed ‘Shaheen’ said he saw Regeni for the first time inside an Egyptian prison.

“You may be surprised that the first time I saw Giulio Regeni was when I was detained. I saw him more than once and heard his voice during interrogations and torture,” he said.

“I saw him on January 28 and 29 while he was outside awaiting investigation. He was tied and clearly showed signs of torture,” Shaheen added, noting that he was only able to hear parts of the interrogation which was being conducted in an area behind his cell.  

However, on one such occasion, words shared between Regeni and the officer caught his attention.

“The officer said to him: know that Italy won’t help you. You are here now and no one will know anything about you. If you die here, no one will know - not even jinns and demons.”  

The second witness, who was given the codename 'The Doctor' unveiled abuse faced by the Italian student while under interrogation. 

“They used electric shocks against him and intimidated him with dogs,” he said, noting this was the first time he felt Regeni was truly frightened. 

“He was screaming loudly, from his voice it seemed he was experiencing severe psychological distress. I felt at the time that he maybe had a phobia of dogs because his reaction was very disturbing,” he added. “I’m not exaggerating when I say these moments for him were more severe than the physical torture he endured.”

However, the second day of interrogation was worse, doctor added.

“I saw him leaving the interrogation, he could not move or walk and was being pulled by the jailers. That was the last time I saw him before he disappeared and that scene remains etched in my mind.”

Speaking to the Al Araby TV team, 'The Doctor' corroborated details provided by 'Shaheen', including the location of the Egyptian military intelligence headquarters in Cairo’s Nasr City, as well as the date.

“It is a security, not government prison, because it is unrecognised and no one knows about it. Most of those held at this prison have been forcibly disappeared and no one knows anything about them,” he added. 

Despite the similarities between both testimonies, Al Araby TV said it was difficult to verify the details, prompting the team to reach out to Regeni's parents and their lawyer.

Speaking to the team, the family’s lawyer Alessandra Ballerini said the witnesses “appear to be honest”

 “I have a long experience in this profession, including five years working on the Guilio [Regeni] case. I’ve listened to many testimonies that have allowed me to distinguish between truth and lies, and even their [the witnesses] answers about specific questions pointed to the truth and they never sought to change their testimonies,” she said. 

“There was no contradiction in their conversation, even while using different expressions, each according to his point of view, the information was identical and credible.”

Ballerini said she even posed questions she already knew the answers to to ensure they were being honest, noting in some cases they answered correctly and other times they admitted “they didn’t know or remember”.

The testimonies were also consistent with an account published by Italian media which said that Egyptian security sources leaked information on the alleged torture and killing of the Italian researcher in Cairo, saying that his death came as a result of a conflict between Egyptian security and intelligence services.

The report suggested Regeni had caught the attention of security forces who monitored his contact with anti-government activists in Egypt. His file was later transferred to military intelligence who called him in for interrogation.

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica also published a report in 2016 in which an anonymous letter sent to the Italian embassy in Switzerland confirmed Regeni was at the National Security headquarters until January 27.

There, "he was subjected to continuous torture” before being taken to the military intelligence building, according to the letter. 

As part of the probe, investigators also found that the letter had already reached the Italian embassy in Switzerland, outlining some purported details about Regeni's murder and the involvement of other security services, but the Italian public prosecutor refused to use it as evidence because it was not signed in the name of a person, according to a high-ranking Italian judicial source.

“We went back to our sources in Cairo, and two different sources confirmed to us that officers in the Egyptian security apparatus assured them that Regeni had been subject to interrogation with more than one Egyptian security agency, including the Military Intelligence Service,” Al Araby TV said.

Together with Ballerini, the investigators met with two witnesses and a forensic artist to create drawings to identify the two officers accused of torturing Regeni.

Both of the drawings were presented in the documentary and were said to be attributed to a major general and a colonel.

The documentary also showed images from Google thought to be the location of the military intelligence building in the Egyptian capital in an attempt to recreate the scenes described by the witnesses.

The Italian student was reportedly taken from a subway station to the police station where he was interrogated by Egyptian public security personnel.

Hours later, a national security team arrived and Regeni was taken to the Lazoghly building, a major security headquarters in central Cairo. Within nine days, Regeni was finally transferred to another security agency, the Egyptian military intelligence building, where he was last seen on January 28 and 29.

The parents of Giulio Regeni “with renewed hope” ask “everyone that has news or memories of him should come forward to speak.”

The Italian student was tortured at the headquarters before his body was found along the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road.

For the security personnel, the easiest solution to his killing was to abandon the body on a public road to make it seem like a random criminal offence.

The revelations by the Al Araby TV team were quickly taken on by the family lawyer who submitted the findings to the Italian Office of the Prosecutor General Sergio Colaiocco.

The Italian prosecutor immediately requested the inclusion of the testimonies as part of the legal case and sent an invitation to the Al-Araby TV team to present the evidence.

The television crew travelled to Rome where they met with Italian judicial officials before an official announcement confirmed three new witnesses, including the two found by the crew, had been included in the case.

In an interview with Al-Araby TV, Italian Parliament Speaker Roberto Fico welcomed the new evidence as it means “we are closer to shedding full light and truth” into the case.

Investigating National Security Officers

Details provided by the Al Araby TV investigation regarding the two National Security Agency officers led Italian prosecutors to include the pair in the indictment among four other officers whose trial in absentia will begin in Rome next week.

Major General Tariq Ali Saber, who supervises the monitoring of trade unions and non-governmental organisations and entities operating in Egypt, is accused of torturing and killing Regeni.

An alleged secret Egyptian National Security Agency probe into the incident confirmed Regeni was not in fact a threat to Egyptian security. It said that information on his alleged activities which was provided by an informant called Muhammad Abdullah was unfounded.

The head of the National Security Agency, Magdy Sharif, also accused of involvement in the killing, denied that he had conducted any field investigation regarding Regeni and that his only source of information was the informant.

In January 2021, Italian Public Prosecutor Michael Preetipino charged all four individuals involved with kidnapping, torture, and murder.

Obliterating the facts

Cairo has been keen to obliterate any evidence linking its officials with Regeni during the period of January 25 - 29.

Until the morning of February 2, 2016, Egyptian authorities engaged in one delaying tactic after another, according to investigations by Italian Prosecutor Colaiocco, who said these were attempts to distract Italian investigators from the facts on the ground.

Among the fabrications presented by Egyptian authorities in the immediate aftermath of the killing was a story saying that a gang of five criminals had robbed and killed Regeni. According to Cairo, the gang members were killed in an exchange of fire with local police. The main perpetrator was allegedly killed on March 25th after police forces launched an investigation to pinpoint his whereabouts.

However, Italian prosecutors did not believe this particular narrative.

Read also: Regeni murder: Parents of Italian student slain in Egypt thank Al-Araby for 'uncovering' new witnesses

After launching their own probe into the gang story, the Italians said the cell phones of the five individuals showed no contact was made between any of them at any time prior to March 24, and tracking data confirmed the phones were never in the vicinity of where Regeni was found.

As for Regeni's private belongings, which were found in the gang leader’s house, findings led prosecutors to believe the search itself was fabricated.

Investigators found a witness dubbed 'Shahid Z' who said a police colonel named Hindi ordered three or four officers to search inside the room of the alleged gang leader, Tariq.

“Colonel Hindi approached me holding a burgundy-coloured passport and asked whether I knew what it was. I told him this was the first time I see a passport of this kind,” the witness said.

“The colonel then confirmed this was the passport of Regeni, the victim who was killed by Tariq and his criminal gang” the witness added.

In 2020, the gang narrative failed to stand even in Egyptian courts, which confirmed the main culprit of the Regeni murder was not known and had not been identified.

However, this was not the only contradiction in Cairo’s official narrative, with the Egyptian Attorney General himself stating that Regeni was under security control no more than three days before his disappearance.

In a statement published shortly after news of the new witnesses broke, the parents of Regeni thanked Al-Araby TV for "uncovering" new details in the ongoing probe.

Paola and Claudio Regeni said the new witnesses that surfaced as part of the Al-Araby TV investigation proved to be essential in ongoing efforts to reach justice. 

“Thanks to the editorial team at Al-Araby we managed to reach two sources who added important pieces to the painful mosaic we have been trying to put together for five years,” said Regeni’s parents.

“A lot of people are coming forward confirming what we already hoped: time, the sense of responsibility, determination, the tenacity of the investigators, the passion of the Popolo Giallo (supporters), and media attention, are excellent allies.”

The parents of Giulio Regeni “with renewed hope” ask “everyone that has news or memories of him should come forward to speak.”

The couple vowed to "guarantee the security and anonymity of the identities of those who will contact us, as we always have."

"Once more we ask you: help us to obtain justice for Giulio and the rest of us,” said Paola and Claudio Regeni and their lawyer, Alessandra Ballerini.

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