US awaits release of 3 students held in Egypt

HADEEL AL-SHALCHI KATHY MATHESON Associated Press Published:

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Three American students arrested during a protest in Cairo and ordered released by an Egyptian court are in the midst of being processed by authorities there, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said Friday.

Katharina Gollner-Sweet, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, told The Associated Press that Derrik Sweeney, Luke Gates and Gregory Porter are being processed for their eventual release one day after a court ordered them released from police custody, according to information from Egyptian officials.

"According to the latest information that the Egyptians gave out they were ordered released in the court but they are in an administrative out-processing stage," Gollner-Sweet said.

"We are continuing to provide normal consular situations. I don't know exactly where they are."

The three U.S. college students, who attend the American University in Cairo, were arrested on the roof of a university building near Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square on Sunday. Officials accused them of throwing firebombs at security forces fighting with protesters.

A court in Egypt ordered the release of the students, a lawyer in Philadelphia confirmed Thursday.

Attorney Theodore Simon, who represents Porter, a 19-year-old student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said he spoke by phone with Porter, describing the student's demeanor as "calm and measured, demonstrating a maturity well beyond his 19 years."

"He was extremely thankful and appreciative for our efforts and the unconditional support of his mother and father," Simon said.

Porter is from Glenside, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia.

Sweeney's mother, Joy Sweeney, said she is "absolutely elated" at the news of her 19-year-old son's release.

"I can't wait to give him a huge hug and tell him how much I love him," she said, adding that the news of the court order was the best Thanksgiving gift.

The 21-year-old Gates is a student at Indiana University.

His parents released a statement Thursday through the school, saying they were "extremely happy" to hear that their son would soon be released.

"This has been a difficult situation, and while we are disappointed that he will be held a few days longer to complete administrative procedures related to his release, we're confident he will be home soon," Bill and Sharon Gates wrote.

The State Department released a statement saying it was trying to independently confirm the reports of the students' release.

Earlier Thursday, Egypt officials said the Abdeen Court in Cairo had ordered their release. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media. They did not say when the students would be released.

Joy Sweeney said she wasn't sure when her son, a student at Georgetown University, would be returning to their home in Jefferson City, Mo.

"If he can find his passport (then he'll leave) tomorrow, if not, it won't be until Monday," she said.

She said the U.S. consul general in Egypt, Roberto Powers, recommended that her son leave Egypt as soon as possible.

"He also conveyed that that was what Derrik had conveyed to him that he wanted to do. He was enjoying his experience but (was) ready to be done with it," Sweeney said.

Derrik Sweeney interned for U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., earlier this year. Luetkemeyer's spokesman Paul Sloca, said the congressman is "extremely pleased that he's safe and coming home, especially on Thanksgiving."

Sweeney said she had not prepared for a Thanksgiving celebration, although a friend had taken her some food. She said the idea of a Thanksgiving feast had seemed "absolutely irrelevant" before the news of her son's pending freedom.

Asked what she thought her son would take away from his arrest, Sweeney said she thought he would make something useful of it.

"I'm sure that he'll put a life-lesson learning experience into a positive story," Sweeney said. "He's a writer, he will write about this experience."

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Associated Press reporter Ed Donahue in Washington contributed to this report. Hadeel Al-Shalchi reported from Cairo.

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