November 24, 2011 / 12:37 PM / in 8 years

Family of U.S. student freed in Egypt gives thanks

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Joy Sweeney’s Thanksgiving wishes were granted in a predawn email on Thursday notifying her that her son and two other American students arrested on suspicion of throwing gasoline bombs in Egypt would be freed.

A general view shows protesters at Tahrir Square as riot police and military fire tear gas, in Cairo November 23, 2011. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Sweeney said she was notified by email at 5:30 a.m. CST that Egyptian authorities would not appeal a judge’s release order for her son Derrik Sweeney, 19 as well as Gregory Porter, 19, and Luke Gates, 21. They were detained this week during the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

“I’ve gone from the low lows to the high highs,” she said in a telephone interview with Reuters from the family’s home in Jefferson City, Missouri.

“Oh my God, I’m absolutely ecstatic to have this news on Thanksgiving. He won’t be home today but he’ll be home soon,” said Sweeney, who owns an art gallery and is executive director of Council for Drug Free Youth, a non-profit organization.

By afternoon, she was awaiting a call from her son. She spoke with him for a minute shortly after he was detained.

“Initially I think they were treated roughly. He said they were not treated well at the beginning. Those his exact words,” Sweeney said.

As for what her son was doing at the protests, she said, “He wanted to go there to observe the Egyptian culture and to be with them.”

PLASTIC BOTTLES

Asked whether the students had the makings for gasoline bombs as initially alleged by Egyptian authorities, she quoted her older son, Josh, 27, a former Air Force serviceman who served in Iraq, who noted the students were carrying plastic bottles.

“‘If they were accused of having Molotov cocktails, they would have had glass bottles,’” she quoted him as saying.

The three students — Sweeney of Georgetown University, Porter of Drexel University, and Gates of Indiana University — were studying abroad at American University’s Cairo campus.

Drexel spokeswoman Niki Gianakaris called the Thanksgiving email from Cairo “very encouraging news about Greg and the other two students” but had no further information.

On its website, Indiana University expressed “its deep concern for the safety of Luke Gates.”

Families of Gates and Porter were not immediately available for comment.

Mark Toner, a spokesman for the State Department, said the United States was trying to confirm reports of the release and was in contact with the students’ families.

“We appreciate the ongoing expeditious consideration of this case by the Egyptian authorities,” he said in a statement.

Sweeney had been due to return to the United States on December 22 at the end of the semester. His older brother, a Northrop Grumman employee working in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was planning to stop in Cairo and join him for the trip home for Christmas.

“Josh said, ‘There goes my trip to Cairo,’” their mother said.

(Additional reporting by Eric Johnson in Chicago and Dave Warner in Philadelphia; Editing by Ian Simpson)

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