Student arrested in Egypt during protests returning to Missouri

Saturday, November 26, 2011 | 4:38 p.m. CST; updated 10:49 p.m. CST, Saturday, November 26, 2011
Three American students appeared on Egyptian state television on Tuesday after their arrests during protests in Cairo. An Egyptian official said the three were throwing firebombs at security forces. A spokeswoman for the American University in Cairo identified the students as Luke Gates, 21, of Bloomington, Ind.; Gregory Porter, 19, of Glensdale, Pa.; and Derrik Sweeney, 19, of Jefferson City.

COLUMBIA — The student from Jefferson City who was arrested during protests in Egypt is scheduled to return home Saturday night. Derrik Sweeney, 19, was released by Egyptian authorities, and he was expected to arrive at the the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport around midnight.

"It’s been quite an experience, one I would not wish on my worst enemy," Sweeney's mother, Joy, said.

KOMU reported late Saturday that United Airlines held Derrik Sweeney's plane in Washington so he could board. He was expected in St. Louis around midnight.

Joy Sweeney learned about her son's arrest from her brother-in-law, whose daughter saw Derrik Sweeney's picture on television news.

Three American students, Derrik Sweeney, Luke Gates and Gregory Porter, who were studying at the American University in Cairo, were arrested Sunday on the roof of a university building near Cairo’s Tahrir Square, according to The Associated Press. They were accused of throwing firebombs at security forces fighting with protesters.

On Friday, an Egyptian court ordered the three students’ release, and the prosecuting attorney decided not to appeal, according to the AP.

The ordeal is now almost over for Derrik Sweeney’s parents.

"11:25, the whole thing is complete," Derrik Sweeney's father, Kevin Sweeney, said. "He's going to be in St. Louis, and then we'll have closure."

Joy Sweeney said she believes her son was a victim of the Egyptian government and media, framing rioters as mostly foreign.

"I saw a report that basically said that the Egyptian television was doing that frequently, parading foreigners and accusing them of inciting the riots so that the local people would think that that was the rioters, not the local people," Joy Sweeney said.

Kevin Sweeney said: "He didn't do the things, we know for a fact." Because the prosecutor did not seek an appeal on the students' release, he said, "The prosecutor conceded that they didn’t do these things."

Kevin Sweeney said he and his wife were concerned about how their son was treated while under arrest, and they still have questions about what happened.

"There's a whole void spot," he said, speaking of the 24 hours the three students were detained before they saw someone from the U.S. embassy in Cairo. "We really don't know what happened."

Joy Sweeney said she did not know the circumstances involved with her son's arrest. She spoke with him for about 90 seconds while he was in detention.

"He said, 'We weren't treated very well at first, but we're fine now. They finally gave us some food,'" she said.

She said her son later told her – once he knew he was going to be released – that he had been abused during the first seven hours he was in custody.

"His face tells it all," she said, referring to a snapshot of the three students from a video that was taken while they were in detention. She said she would not speak in detail about what her son experienced during the first seven hours. She wanted to let him talk to the media about it himself.

Once Derrik Sweeney was transferred to the prosecutor's office his parents were less worried about his safety because the U.S. Consulate General was there to make sure the three students were safe and were being treated "properly," Kevin Sweeney said.

The three students did not have to leave Egypt, but Joy Sweeney said someone from the U.S. Embassy told an official at Georgetown University, where Derrick Sweeney is a student, that it was safest for him to leave the country — he stood out visually and his fluency in Arabic raised suspicions among Egyptian police that he might have been a spy.

The Sweeneys, along with ABC, TBS, KOMU and maybe CNN, will meet their son at the airport Saturday night, Joy Sweeney said.

She said she will also appear with her son on the Today Show, Good Morning America, Fox and Friends and CNN.

For now, though, Joy Sweeney is just happy her son is coming home.

"I just want that plane to land," she said.

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