Relatives hail pending release of U.S. students detained in Egypt
WASHINGTON — Relatives and university officials welcomed Thursday an Egyptian court’s order to release of three American students arrested during protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Georgetown University student Derrik Sweeney, 19, was attending the American University in Cairo as part of a study abroad program, along with 19-year-old Drexel University student Gregory Porter and Luke Gates, 21, of Indiana University.
“Our entire Georgetown community is deeply grateful to all those whose prompt attention and work led to their release,” Georgetown University president John DeGioia said in a statement.
“Our thoughts and prayers have been with the Sweeney family and the family and friends of the other two American students. As we give thanks, we continue to keep them in our prayers.”
In Cairo, the official MENA news agency reported Thursday that an Egyptian court had ordered the trio’s release, a day after the prosecutor general had said they would be detained for four days.
Sweeney’s mother Joy said she was overjoyed by the prospect of welcoming her son home soon.
“We are just so blessed and so grateful right now,” she told CNN’s “American Morning. “I can’t wait to give him a big hug.”
She said her son told her in a telephone call Wednesday that “they had done nothing wrong.”
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said US officials were in contact with the students and their families as they provided consular assistance.
“We appreciate the ongoing expeditious consideration of this case by the Egyptian authorities,” Toner said in a statement, without confirming that the trio had been released.
Drew Harper, a friend of the students, said they had been wrongly accused.
“I don’t believe for one second that those Molotov cocktails belonged to the boys,” he told CNN, accusing the Egyptian military of wanting to “pin the recent violence on foreigners.”
“These are not drunk college students looking for a thrill or boys hellbent on committing suicide in a blaze of glory,” Harper said.
The students were arrested on Monday along with other protesters at a mass anti-military rally in Tahrir.
Thousands had been converging on the square — the epicenter of protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak from power — to demand the end of military rule and a swift transition to civilian authority.
The suspects had been arrested with a bag allegedly containing a water bottle filled with petrol, MENA reported.