Prosecutors in Italy can try four Egyptian security agents on charges of kidnapping, torturing and murdering an Italian doctoral student whose brutalized body was found on the outskirts of Cairo in 2016, a judge in Rome ruled on Tuesday.
The agents from Egypt’s National Security Agency will be tried in absentia in the death of the student, Giulio Regeni, after the legal authorities in Rome were unable to talk to them or find their addresses in Egypt.
The judge, Pier Luigi Balestrieri, ruled that, given the attention given to the case in the Italian and international media, it was impossible for the defendants to be unaware of the legal proceedings against them, and ordered a trial to start in October.
“It took us 64 months,” Alessandra Ballerini, the lawyer for Paola and Claudio Regeni, the parents of the murdered student, told reporters before leaving the court. “But today is a good finish line and a good starting point.”
“Paola and Claudio often say that all human rights were violated against Giulio,” Ms. Ballerini added. “Today we have hope that at least the right to justice won’t be violated.”
Maj. Madgi Ibrahim Abdelal Sharif, Maj. Gen. Tariq Sabir, Col. Athar Kamel Mohamed Ibrahim and Col. Uhsam Helmi are accused of the “aggravated kidnapping” of Mr. Regeni, who was researching labor unions in Cairo when he vanished, and could face up to 10 years in prison on that charge. Public defenders were automatically appointed for them in the Italian judicial system.
Maj. Sharif, who is also charged with “conspiracy to commit aggravated murder,” could also receive a life sentence. If the defendants are found guilty, Italian authorities could decide to seek their extradition from Egypt.
More than five years after the killing, the case still receives intense media coverage in Italy, and the Regeni family and their lawyer often speak at conferences on human rights and before student groups, and appear on national television in their campaign to seek the truth about the killing. Last week, they met with Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
Many Italian politicians have promised to help the Regenis in their quest for justice, but Egypt has in recent years stopped cooperating with investigators on the case, making extradition unlikely.
The inquiry in Rome is mostly based on evidence gathered in Cairo by the Italian police, or from their analysis of video footage from the subway station where Mr. Regeni disappeared and cellphone traffic in the area. A number of witnesses have come forward in recent months. Their nationalities and identities are being kept secret by Italian authorities to protect them.
According to court documents, one witness saw Mr. Regeni, 28, handcuffed and with evident signs of torture in an office of Egypt’s Interior Ministry, another overheard a confession that Maj. Sharif allegedly made to a colleague during a mission in Nairobi, Kenya.
A third said that a vendor who is believed to have betrayed Mr. Regeni and spied on him on behalf of the National Security Agency, was aware that Mr. Regeni was taken to the agency’s offices, the documents say. A fourth said that the officials firmly believed that Mr. Regeni was a spy, finding it suspicious that he was doing his Ph.D. at Cambridge University in Britain.