Skip to main content

3 U.S. students expect to be freed in Egypt; U.S. filmmaker also in custody

By the CNN Wire Staff
November 25, 2011 -- Updated 1027 GMT (1827 HKT)
  • Prosecutors gave to police a "release order" for 3 detained students, a spokesman says
  • U.S. diplomats are talking with Egypt authorities about the filmmaker, a spokesman says
  • The students are not irresponsible, drunken college students, a friend insists
  • The three college students were accused of throwing Molotov cocktails during a protest

Cairo (CNN) -- As questions continued to swirl about the fate of three American college students arrested in Egypt for their role in ongoing protests there, a U.S. official said that diplomats were also in contact with Egyptian authorities about an award-winning filmmaker behind bars.

The three college students -- Derrik Sweeney, Gregory Porter and Luke Gates -- were ordered to be released Thursday, said Adel Saeed, the spokesman of the general prosecutor.

But late in the day, they remained in custody.

There was less clarity, meanwhile, about documentarian Jehane Noujaim.

Mom describes 'emotional roller coaster'
Journalist describes her abuse in Egypt
Parties considering Egypt election delay
Tweets document 12 hours in Egypt

Film producer Karim Amer said Wednesday that the Egyptian-American woman -- whose works include "The Control Room," about Al-Jazeera and the United States during the early days of the Iraq War -- was arrested while filming close to the Interior Ministry building in Cairo.

On Thursday, David Lynfield -- a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo -- said that U.S. diplomats are aware of "her place in detention" and have been "in touch with the Egyptian authorities regarding" her case.

Meanwhile, family and friends of the three detained U.S. college students continued to ride an emotional roller coaster, days after Egyptian authorities arrested them on suspicion of throwing Molotov cocktails during a protest in Cairo. All had been attending American University in Cairo on a semester-long, study-abroad program.

The prosecutor's office told CNN earlier Thursday that the trio had already been released. But late in the day, a friend of the students said they could remain in custody for a few more days.

Drew Harper, a 22-year-old film student from New York who has been in Cairo for three months, said the students said they were in good spirits and cited a bureaucratic slowdown for their continuing detention.

The erroneous news that they had already been freed was initially embraced by Joy Sweeney, whose son Derrik is among the three. "We are just so blessed and so grateful right now," she told CNN. "I can't wait to give him a big hug."

The students were to be taken to a physician for a medical examination, then back to the police station for paperwork to be processed, and finally to their dorm rooms, she said.

The Egyptian attorney general would not appeal the trio's release, she added.

The family is keen for Derrik to return home as soon as possible, for his own safety, Joy Sweeney added.

Roberto Powers, the U.S. consul general in Egypt, advised that as the three students' pictures had been plastered all over the media, "it wouldn't be safe or prudent for them to remain in the country," the mother said.

She said her son told her Wednesday in a telephone call that "they had done nothing wrong."

Sweeney, 19, is a Georgetown University student from Jefferson City, Missouri; Porter, 19, from Glenside, Pennsylvania, attends Drexel University in Philadelphia; and Gates, 21, of Bloomington, Indiana, goes to Indiana University.

Their arrests came amid persistent protests against Egypt's ruling military council in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Security forces have clashed with the demonstrators repeatedly in recent days, though a relative calm fell over the square on Thursday. The same day, Egypt's military leaders apologized for the 38 deaths nationwide and vowed to prosecute offenders and pay the medical bills of those injured. Some 3,250 had been hurt by Thursday, said Hisham Shiha of Egypt's Health Ministry.

Harper told CNN some media reports had inaccurately portrayed the detained students as irresponsible.

Harper described the three as intelligent, well-informed and nonviolent. "I don't believe for one second that those Molotov cocktails belonged to the boys," he said.

He accused the Egyptian military of wanting to "pin the recent violence on foreigners" and said they had wrongly accused the three Americans.

Saeed, the prosecutor's spokesman, said Wednesday that a bag filled with empty bottles, a bottle of gasoline, a towel and a camera had been found with the three American students.

"They denied the bag belonged to them and said it belonged to two of their friends," Saeed said.

Journalists Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Ian Lee in Cairo and CNN's Devon Sayers in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
April 12, 2012 -- Updated 0052 GMT (0852 HKT)
Egypt's administrative court has suspended the country's 100-member constitutional assembly. What does that say about the country's progress toward political reform?
April 11, 2012 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
On February 1, riots at a football match in Port Said plunged Egypt into mourning and despair -- the future of one of African soccer's traditional powerhouses seemed bleak.
February 2, 2012 -- Updated 1046 GMT (1846 HKT)
Political tensions flare after more than 70 people die and hundreds are injured when fans riot at a soccer match in the Egyptian city of Port Said.
February 4, 2012 -- Updated 1511 GMT (2311 HKT)
Fans storm on to the pitch during riots that erupted after the football match between Al-Masry and Al-Ahly.
The scenes in Port Said will leave an indelible mark on post-revolution Egypt because soccer matters more here than anywhere, argues James Montague.
An Egyptian photographer found himself in the middle of the Arab Spring. Months after the demonstrations died down, he returned to document what had changed.
January 25, 2012 -- Updated 1948 GMT (0348 HKT)
The protests in Egypt that toppled Hosni Mubarak began one year ago today. But some are asking now: What's the difference?
January 25, 2012 -- Updated 1945 GMT (0345 HKT)
An Egyptian girl shouts slogans against the military in Cairo's Tahrir Square on December 23, 2011 as people gathered for a mass rally against the ruling military, which sparked outrage when its soldiers were taped beating women protesters.
It's been a year since the mass protests started in Egypt but one author says the seeds of revolution were sown years ago.
January 25, 2012 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Many Egyptians wonder if the revolution amounted to nothing more than a military coup, writes Aladdin Elaasar, a former professor and author.
January 22, 2012 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
Egypt's first democratically elected parliament is to meet Monday - but that is not the end of the country's revolution.
January 23, 2012 -- Updated 2130 GMT (0530 HKT)
A look at some of the moments from the first 18 days of upheaval in Egypt that culminated in political change.