The Egyptian government has blocked every effort to prosecute those responsible for the torture and murder of Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni in January 2016, and successive Italian governments have tried (to varying degrees) and failed to move the needle. But the Regeni family hasn’t given up.
On Wednesday, the family and their lawyer, Alessandra Ballerini, gathered at the National Press Foundation and disclosed the names of 20 people from the highest levels of Egyptian intelligence who were likely involved in the torture.
“Our investigations, our small pieces of the truth, bring us to at least 20 names, nearly all from the NSA, from colonels and generals to staff. For once, they will be the ones who won’t feel safe anymore,” Ballerini said.
The five names previously disclosed in the press and under official investigation by the prosecutor’s office in Rome “are only the first five,” she said. Her message was that we must push onwards—fully aware, as Regeni’s mother Paola Deffendi said, that we are “at an important stage, and we should not relent. A big step forward has been made because nobody gave up.”
The 20 names are officials at the top of the National Security Agency (NSA), the Egyptian domestic intelligence service under the direct control of the Ministry of Interior. This agency is the Big Brother of the Egyptians, known as State Security Investigations Service (SSIS) until seven years ago, and which changed its name—but little else—after the Revolution.
We know that the main people responsible for the torture and murder—General Tarek Saber, Colonel Usham Helmy and Ather Kamal, Major Magdi Sharif and agent Mahmoud Najem—ordered and executed the surveillance operation on Regeni starting from December 2015. However, according to Ballerini, there is also “another group of people who were in charge of the extremely bloody diversion, the murder of five Egyptian citizens on March 24, 2016.”
The list of liars also includes the Egyptian coroner who attributed Regeni’s death to a cerebral hematoma to support the cover story of a traffic accident, and later claimed he had been tortured for just one day instead of nine. It includes the people who found Regeni’s body and the Egyptian man who said on TV that he saw Regeni the day before his death, wearing a pink shirt and arguing with someone in front of the Italian embassy, when, according to the emails he sent on Jan. 24, Regeni was actually at home. Not just five, and not even just 20: the full number of those involved is, in the end, around 40. All of this is provable.
Among the names, the most conspicuous is the highest-ranking one: General Tarek Saber, a top official of the NSA at the time of Regeni’s abduction and murder, who surreptitiously “retired” in 2017. He was the one who said, in an attempt to deflect suspicion from his agency, that “Regeni did not represent a danger to the security of the country”—a de facto admission that Regeni had been the target of investigations.
His involvement points even higher, to the very top of the pyramid: “Nothing goes on outside el-Sisi’s control,” the Regeni family’s attorney concluded. “It’s impossible that he didn’t know. He had nine days and nine nights and everyone was on alert. If he didn’t know, then he has a big problem.”
Ballerini, Deffendi and Regeni’s father, Claudio Regeni, praised the “great team” that comprised lawyers and advisers in Egypt (“the real heroes”), journalists and citizens—and she made a final appeal to the 20 people on the suspect list: “It would be good for them if they spoke up first.”
Meanwhile, at the Palazzo Montecitorio, the President of the Chamber of Deputies Fico spoke of the government’s shared resolve on this issue. However, a much more troubling aspect was highlighted at the press conference at the National Press Federation: the failure to cut off relations with Cairo. Former PD Senator Luigi Manconi said: “While the previous government, which I supported, called el-Sisi’s regime a good friend, nowadays they have taken it much further: in 35 days, there have been four meetings by members of the Italian government with the head of the regime. We are going from a good friendship to a scandalous love affair.“
One of those attending the press conference was Ahmed Abdallah, the founder of the Egyptian NGO ECRF, which since 2013 has been engaged in investigating thousands of cases of forced disappearances, torture and abuse. One of the advisers for the Regeni family in Cairo, himself imprisoned for more than five months in 2016 for reasons tied to the work he was doing for the Regeni family, took the opportunity, together with Paola and Claudio, to shine a spotlight on the case of Amal Fathy.
Amal, an activist and the wife of another of ECRF’s founders, Mohamed Lofty, has been in prison since May, held hostage by the regime: “She is not receiving adequate medical care. Her health is deteriorating day by day. She has a 3-year-old child, she should be with him, not in a prison.”
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