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Egyptian security officials accused of torturing and murdering students face trial in absentia

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Four Egyptian security agents are on trial today in absentia in Italy for the brutal murder of student Giulio Regeni in Cairo five years ago.

The agents are charged with kidnapping, conspiracy to commit murder and grievous bodily harm in the case, which sparked outrage in Italy and strained diplomatic relations with Egypt.

Regeni, 28, an Italian student doing research for a PhD at Cambridge University, was kidnapped in January 2016. His body, with extensive traces of torture, was eventually found dumped in the outskirts of Cairo.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio welcomed the first hearing in Rome as “an unexpected outcome in the weeks following the discovery of Giulio’s body,” when the case seemed unsolvable.

Four Egyptian security agents are on trial in absentia in Italy today for the brutal murder of student Giulio Regeni in Cairo five years ago (pictured)

But the process may collapse before it has even started.

The court will have to rule on whether the four suspects are aware of the legal proceedings against them, as required by law. Egypt has refused to provide their contact details.

At a preliminary hearing in May, a judge ruled that media coverage meant that news of the investigation into the four would have reached them. That decision can be confirmed or quashed by the court on Thursday.

The four are named in court documents as General Tariq Sabir, Colonels Athar Kamel and Uhsam Helmi and Major Magdi Ibrahim Abdelal Sharif, who is accused of carrying out the murder.

Regeni's body was found nine days after he disappeared and his mother, Paola Deffendi (pictured), later said it was so mutilated that she only recognized her son by the 'tip of his nose'

Regeni’s body was found nine days after he disappeared and his mother, Paola Deffendi (pictured), later said it was so mutilated that she only recognized her son by the ‘tip of his nose’

Investigators believe Regeni was kidnapped and killed after being mistaken for a foreign spy.

Prosecutor Michele Prestipino told a parliamentary committee in December that there were “elements of significant evidence” implicating Egyptian officers in the murder – a charge rejected by Egypt.

He had left his apartment with the intention of taking the subway to meet a friend in town, but was never seen again.

His team alleges that Sharif had informers follow Regeni, arrest him and cause him “acute physical suffering.” Regeni’s teeth were broken and his hands and feet were broken. He died of suffocation.

Pictured: A candlelight vigil was held for Regeni across Italy on January 25, 2020, at 7:41 PM - the time he left home for the last time before his death

Pictured: A candlelight vigil was held for Regeni across Italy on January 25, 2020, at 7:41 PM – the time he left home for the last time before his death

Letters were also carved into his skin, which are said to be a calling card for the Egyptian security services.

Regeni’s legal team has asked all Italian prime ministers and foreign ministers since 2016 to be called as witnesses, along with the chiefs of the country’s secret service, according to media reports.

But court-appointed defense attorney Tranquillino Sarno told AFP the trial would stand or fall if key eyewitnesses central to the prosecution’s case reached Rome to testify in person.

Regeni’s body was found nine days after his disappearance, and his mother later said it was so mutilated that she only recognized her son by the ‘tip of his nose’.

As part of his work for a doctorate, Regeni had researched Egyptian trade unions, a particularly sensitive political issue.

Regeni's death sparked new criticism of the human rights situation in Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.  Pictured: Protesters gather in front of the Egyptian embassy in London on February 2, 2018

Regeni’s death sparked new criticism of the human rights situation in Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Pictured: Protesters gather in front of the Egyptian embassy in London on February 2, 2018

Egypt has previously denied that he was tortured to reveal contacts with opposition figures.

They said he was murdered by a criminal gang shot by police in Egypt, but this was previously ridiculed by Italian investigators.

Police also initially suggested that Mr Regeni had been killed in a road accident.

His death sparked new criticism of the human rights situation in Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Human Rights Watch’s Claudio Francavilla told reporters in Rome on Wednesday that the trial was being watched closely as “a symbol of hope for the Egyptians.”

Pictured: Pall porters carry Regeni's coffin at his funeral on February 12, 2016

Pictured: Pall porters carry Regeni’s coffin at his funeral on February 12, 2016

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