ROME – Giulio Regeni, 28, was conducting fieldwork in the Egyptian capital to research Egyptian labour movements and was last seen on January 25. His body was found nine days later near a highway outside of Cairo. Italian media have claimed that Regeni was murdered because Egypt’s secret service believed the student to be a spy, resulting in “inhuman animal-like violence”.

Amongst Regeni’s many injuries, the student was tortured prior to his death, resulting in his finger and toe nails being pulled out. His neck was also twisted or struck, which resulted in a broken vertebra that left the student unable to breath. Italian media have claimed that the autopsy results, which were carried out in Italy after his corpse was returned, shows signs of brutal torture.

A murder investigation has been opened in Rome by prosecutors, who are calling on Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to cooperate. Angelino Alfano, Italy’s Interior Minister, said: “I am convinced that it is in the interest of el-Sissi to work together. No one can bring Giulio back to life, but bringing the truth to the surface will perhaps be able to save more lives.”

In response, Egyptian Interior Minister Magdi Abdel Ghaffar has rejected the notion of security forces being involved in Regeni’s death. He told a news conference: “There are many rumours repeated on pages of newspapers insinuating the security forces might be behind the accident. This is unacceptable. This is not our policy.”

Initial claims by Egypt state that Regeni was killed in a road accident.

A second autopsy was carried out in Italy, with results so shocking that Alfano told reporters that he struggled to catch breath after reading the report. He said that Regeni suffered “something inhuman, animal-like, unacceptable violence”.

Ahmed Nagi, the prosecutor who leads the investigation team on the case, added that all of his body, including his face, had bruises, stabbings and cigarette burns, resulting in what appeared to be a “slow death”.

Egyptian police have been accused of regularly torturing detainees amid a crackdown on dissent ahead of the anniversary of the Arab Spring (January 25). It is reported that police raided apartments in Cairo searching for plans of organised protests. Rights groups have accused police of using forced disappearances over the past year – detaining suspected activists or Islamists in secret without reporting their arrest.

The Egyptian Association for Rights and Freedoms reported 314 such disappearances in 2015, and whilst most later turned up in prison, at least five were found at the morgue. One had signs of torture, including burns and electric shocks. 35 such disappearances have been reported so far in 2016, two of which have died.

– Barry Quinn, Correspondent (Europe)