Family: US student arrested in Egypt called home

November 23, 2011 - 6:50 PM
Egypt Americans Arrested

In this image from Egyptian state television broadcast Tuesday Nov 22 2011, three American students are displayed to the camera by Egyptian authorities following their arrest during protests in Cairo, where an Egyptian official said they were throwing firebombs at security forces. A spokeswoman for the American University in Cairo identified the students as Luke Gates, a 21-year-old Indiana University student from Bloomington, Ind.; Derrik Sweeney, a 19-year-old Georgetown University student from Jefferson City, Mo.; and Gregory Porter, a 19 year-old Drexel University student from Glenside, Pa.(AP Photo/ Egyptian TV)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — One of the three American college students arrested during demonstrations in Egypt called home Wednesday and said he was being treated relatively well under the circumstances but denied doing anything wrong during a protest in Cairo, his family said.

The three students attend American University in Cairo, and a spokeswoman for the school said Wednesday that they were questioned by Egyptian authorities around midnight Cairo time. The school said an embassy lawyer was present for the questioning and that the U.S. consul general also spoke with the students, reporting that they are in good health and being treated well.

An Egyptian official has said the three were arrested on the roof of a university building where they were throwing firebombs at security forces fighting with protesters near Tahrir Square. They were questioned again later Wednesday, one of the students' mothers said, and the families do not expect to hear anything more until early next week.

Joy Sweeny said that she had a 90-second conversation with her 19-year-old son Derrik Sweeny at about 6:30 a.m. while he was using the phone of the consul general. She said he told her he had been fed and wasn't being tortured, and that he insisted that he hadn't done anything wrong.

"That was just a blessing to hear his voice," she said.

"I said, 'Did you throw anything off a roof?' And he said 'No, I didn't.' And then I said, 'Did you do anything else?' He said, 'No, none of us did.'"

His father, Kevin Sweeney, said the phone call Wednesday offered some relief and that his son's assertion that they did nothing wrong made him more comfortable that his son would be released.

Derrik Sweeney, a Georgetown University student, was arrested along with Luke Gates, a 21-year-old Indiana University student from Bloomington, Ind., and Gregory Porter, a 19-year-old Drexel University student from Glenside, Pa.

In Philadelphia, Drexel University spokeswoman Niki Gianakaris said in a statement that three other Drexel students are in the same study abroad program, and they remain safe.

The parents of Sweeney and Gates said that they have been in Cairo since August, studying Arabic.

Kevin Sweeney said that his son was scheduled to return home on Dec. 22. Sweeney said he hoped his son might be released in a few days and then would return home without completing the semester.

"My wishes are that he get on a plane," his father said, but added that he respected if his son decided to stay and finish the semester.

Derrik Sweeney was born in Chicago and lived in Los Angeles before the family moved to Jefferson City, Mo., roughly when he was in fifth grade. Sweeney's family says he is a principled person who stands up for his beliefs but has been a peacemaker among quarreling family members.

Earlier this year, he interned for with Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, a Missouri Republican. However, in high school, he volunteered for President Barack Obama's campaign. Kevin Sweeney said Wednesday his son is has become particularly concerned about economic issues and the national debt.

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Associated Press writer Patrick Walters in Philadelphia contributed to this report.