Italy is working with the Egyptian government to find an Italian student from Britain's Cambridge University who went missing last week in Cairo, where he was carrying out doctoral research, an Italian diplomat and friends of the student said Tuesday.
Giulio Regeni, 28, disappeared on January 25, the five-year anniversary of the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule, his friends and the Italian foreign ministry says.
Tensions were high in Egypt in the run-up to the anniversary, with police detaining activists and warning against protests. No significant protests took place.
Amr Assad, a friend of Regeni, said he disappeared after leaving his home in an upper middle class area to meet a friend downtown.
"That particular day he wanted to visit for a friend's birthday. He sent me a text message about that. When I called him back his phone was off. The next day… I knew from another friend who was waiting for him in the street that he never arrived," he said. "His phone was off since…"
Assad, who was questioned by police trying to find out what had happened to the Italian, said authorities appeared not to know what had happened to him.
Security sources said they were searching for the Italian. There was no official comment from the Egyptian government.
The Italian embassy said it had been working closely with Egyptian authorities to locate Regeni. The Italian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Sunday highlighting its concern.
A copy of Regeni's CV, provided by another friend, indicated he spoke four languages and had won several scholarships. His research focused on trade unions in Egypt after the uprising.
Activists have faced growing pressure since mid-2013, when the army overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood. A tough crackdown on dissent followed.
Human rights groups say Egyptians are often detained by police on little evidence and beaten or coerced, while scores have disappeared since 2013.
Egypt denies allegations of police brutality.
Malek Adly, a lawyer following Regeni's case, said it was unclear if there was a political motive for his disappearance.
"We have a precedent. There was a Croatian citizen who was kidnapped and slaughtered… We also have precedents where Egyptian security captures people and they disappear," he said.
Last year, Islamic State militants kidnapped a Croatian man from the outskirts of Cairo and later beheaded him. But such incidents are rare and there was heavy police presence in downtown Cairo when Regeni went missing.