The team from the office of the Chief Prosecutor of Rome, having arrived in Cambridge on Tuesday, went to work on Wednesday. The first order of business was the questioning of Giulio Regeni’s thesis supervisor, Maha Abdelrahman, by assistant prosecutor Colaiocco, followed by an early morning search of her office and her home, which led to the seizure of documents, computers, phones, USB sticks and hard drives.
It was a surprising turn of events. The professor, considered to be a material witness and not under investigation, finally spoke to the prosecutors after a year and a half of unsuccessful attempts by the latter to arrange an interview. After an initial meeting at Regeni’s funeral in Fiumicello, Abdelrahman, herself an Egyptian and an opponent of the current regime, had denied all requests and refused to meet with the Italians investigators.
Her refusal ended up stirring a hornet’s nest in Italy, with political commentators and members of the government taking advantage of the opportunity to shift the attention of the public from Cairo to London, and to accuse the professor of sympathizing with the Muslim Brotherhood, aiming to make everyone assume there had been some (vague and ill-defined) conspiracy.
But the young Italian researcher did not die at a British university. He died in the Egyptian capital, at the hands of “torture professionals.” Still, the lack of cooperation from Cambridge—which would be useful in order to clarify the details of the research, the contacts that Regeni made in Cairo, and the information he obtained, not in order to accuse the supervisor or the institution—did not make the work of the prosecutors any easier, already hampered as it was by false leads and illogical “theories” suggested for investigation by the el-Sisi regime.
In the end, the Italians’ letters rogatory led to Abdelrahman being interviewed Wednesday. According to a statement by the prosecutor’s office, she answered all the questions she was asked, and confirmed what was already known: Regeni, she said, was free to choose the topic of his research, thus denying the rumors that appeared in Italian newspapers in November alleging that the topic had been decided for him.
The next step is to interview students who have previously gone to Egypt for the same reasons as Regeni. The local police have already identified students who carried out similar research in the past, focusing on the role of the independent trade unions that developed after the Tahrir Square revolution of 2011—a topic which is of great interest to the thesis supervisor.
From these students, Colaiocco is particularly intent on talking to a female researcher who was expelled from Egypt, where she was doing the same type of research as Regeni.
However, it was the search of Abdelrahman’s home and office that clearly got everyone’s attention. In a statement, the Prosecutor’s Office of Rome clarified that the search was performed by the ROS (Special Operations Group of the carabinieri) and SCO (Central Operations Service of the Italian police), in collaboration with the British authorities: “The computer storage media and materials acquired will be useful for establishing, with full clarity, in an unmistakable and objective manner, the role played by the professor in the events which are under investigation.”
These words raise the possibility of new investigative scenarios, which might be able to shed light on the results that Regeni had gotten in his research in the field until Jan. 25, 2016 (and regarding which he told his family that he had met with his thesis supervisor in Cairo, shortly before his disappearance). This trail of breadcrumbs may be able to lead us to those materially responsible for the young man’s barbaric murder.
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