Italy Again Prosecutes Egypt Officials For The 2016 Torture And Death Of Italian Student In Cairo

President of the court Paola Roja gestures during the start of the trial for the killing of Cambridge University researcher Giulio Regeni, at the Rome's court, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Four high-level Egyptian security officials are going on trial in absentia in a Rome court, accused in the 2016 abduction, torture and slaying of an Italian doctoral student in Cairo. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
President of the court Paola Roja gestures during the start of the trial for the killing of Cambridge University researcher Giulio Regeni, at the Rome's court, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Four high-level Egyptian security officials are going on trial in absentia in a Rome court, accused in the 2016 abduction, torture and slaying of an Italian doctoral student in Cairo. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
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ROME (AP) — Four high-level Egyptian security officials went on trial in absentia before a Rome court on Tuesday, accused in the 2016 abduction, torture and slaying of an Italian doctoral student in Cairo.

Giulio Regeni’s body was found on a highway days after he disappeared in the Egyptian capital on Jan. 25, 2016. He was in Cairo to research union activities among street vendors as part of his doctoral thesis.

His mother has said his body was so mutilated by torture that she was only able to recognize the tip of his nose when she viewed it. Human rights activists have said the marks on his body resembled those resulting from widespread torture in Egyptian Security Agency facilities.

Regeni's parents, Paola and Giulio Regeni, were on hand for the opening court session and posed outside the tribunal with a banner “Truth for Giulio Regeni.”

“We have been waiting for eight years this moment,” said Regeni’s longtime family attorney Alessandra Ballerini. “We finally hope to have a trial against those who perpetrated all the possible pain in the world on Giulio.”

Tuesday's opening hearing actually marked the second time the four Egyptian security officials went on trial on charges related to his death: In 2021, a Rome judge halted the trial on the day it opened, arguing there was no certainty that the defendants had been officially informed that they were charged.

In September, Italy’s Constitutional Court ruled that the trial could go ahead even if the four hadn’t received official notification, because Egyptian authorities had refused to provide addresses for them.

But the issue of official notification of the defendants was still a question Tuesday.

Tranquillino Sarno, a public defender for one of the defendants, Acer Kamel, asked for continued efforts to contact them. He asked the court to ensure that Egyptian authorities "can be officially informed of this trial in Italy, as today we don’t even know if they are still alive,” he said.

In addition to Kamal, who headed a police department in charge of street operations and discipline, the accused are Maj. Sherif Magdy; police Maj. Gen. Tareq Saber, who was a top official at the domestic security agency at the time of Regeni’s abduction; Col. Hesham Helmy, who was serving at a security center in charge of policing the Cairo district where the Italian was living.

Egyptian authorities have alleged that the Cambridge University doctoral student fell victim to ordinary robbers.

The case strained relations between Italy and Egypt, an ally for Rome in efforts to combat terrorism. At one point, Italy withdrew its ambassador to press for Egyptian cooperation in the investigation.

After preliminary motions, the president of the jury adjourned the proceedings until March 18.