Jefferson City father says son arrested in Egypt called home

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 | 2:33 p.m. CST; updated 10:15 p.m. CST, Saturday, November 26, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — One of the three American college students arrested during demonstrations in Egypt called home Wednesday and said he was being treated relatively well but denied that he threw anything during a protest in Cairo, his father 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 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. Another round of questioning was expected.

Kevin Sweeney, of Jefferson City told The Associated Press that his 19-year-old son Derrik Sweeney spoke "very briefly" with his mother about 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday using the phone of the consul general. He said his son said he has not been tortured and that he was observing the demonstrations from the roof of a university building because he is studying Egyptian culture.

"He said he was watching from the rooftop and said he was not throwing anything and the next thing you know, they were grabbed by the police forces and hustled off and basically made into a big public display," Kevin Sweeney said.

He said the phone call Wednesday offered some relief and that his son's assertion that nothing was thrown 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 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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