CAIRO — Italy recalled its ambassador to Egypt on Friday for urgent consultations, stepping up diplomatic pressure to seek “the truth” about the torture and slaying of an Italian graduate student that threatens to damage the close ties between the two countries.
In a statement, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said he was recalling Ambassador Maurizio Massari for “an urgent evaluation” to find ways to “relaunch the commitment aimed at determining the truth about the barbarous murder of Giulio Regeni.”
Gentiloni also tweeted in Italian that his country wanted “one thing only: the truth about Giulio.”
Regeni, a 28-year-old Cambridge University doctoral student, was researching Egyptian trade unions when he disappeared in the Egyptian capital on Jan. 25, the fifth anniversary of the Egyptian uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
On that day, Egyptian security forces and police were heavily present on the streets to stop any protests.
Nine days later, Regeni’s mutilated body was found on the side of a highway. An autopsy conducted by Italy found that he been tortured over several days and appeared to have died Feb. 1 or 2.
Friday’s decision came a day after meetings between Italian authorities and a delegation of Egyptians handling the investigation of Regeni’s death.
Ahmed Abu Zeid, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Friday that the ministry had not been officially notified of the recall of the Italian ambassador. He added that any official reaction would come after discussions were held with the Egyptian investigators upon their return.
“Accordingly, the situation will be assessed in a comprehensive manner, and the necessary contacts will be conducted at the appropriate level,” Abu Zeid said.
The recall was widely seen in Egypt and Italy as the latest sign of the Italian government’s dissatisfaction with the pace of the Egyptian investigation. Human rights groups have suggested that Egypt’s security forces were behind Regeni’s killing. His body bore signs of torture, including cigarette burns and broken bones, similar to the type of abuses linked to the security forces in the past.
Last month, Egyptian authorities said they had killed members of a criminal gang who they said were behind Regeni’s murder. But that triggered more disbelief in Italy, fueling Italian accusations of a coverup.
Ahead of the meetings with the Egyptians, Italian prosecutors were seeking Regeni’s cellphone records and footage from surveillance cameras near the metro station where he was last seen.
The high-profile case comes as Egypt’s economy is struggling and tourism is declining. Italy is a large trading partner, and the Italian oil company Eni has a long-standing relationship with Egypt. Regeni’s parents have demanded that Italy declare Egypt unsafe for Italians to visit, a move that could entail other Western nations to issue similar travel warnings.
In Egypt, as well, there is growing dissatisfaction over how authorities have handled the investigation. On Sunday, the editor in chief of Al-Ahram, the country’s most well-known state newspaper, wrote in a front page article that Egyptian officials had little understanding of “the value of truth” and that teh situation “places the Egyptian state in an embarrassing and extremely grave predicament.”
Heba Habib in Cairo contributed to this report.