U.S. student arrested in Egypt says he fainted from fear

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Story highlights

  • Derrik Sweeney: "I actually fainted"
  • Sweeney: Accusations against us "were fabricated"
  • Egyptian prosecutor said a bag of bottles and gasoline was found near the 3 students
  • All 3 have returned home

One of three American college students arrested in Cairo passed out from fear when Egyptian authorities accused them of taking part in violence, he told CNN Sunday.

"There were cops and people with guns standing before us," Derrik Sweeney said, describing "the scariest moment of my life. I didn't know if I was going to survive, and I actually fainted -- the only time I recall fainting in my life."

Sweeney, Gregory Porter and Luke Gates were back in the United States Sunday, a few days after an Egyptian court ordered their release.

Egyptian authorities had accused them of throwing Molotov cocktails in the clashes that have rattled Egypt in recent days.

"That was entirely fabricated," Sweeney told CNN, adding that he and the others did not do anything "to harm anyone or anything."

Porter was the first of the students to come home, returning to Pennsylvania on Saturday.

"I just want to say that I'm so thankful to be back in Philadelphia," Porter told reporters. "I'd like to thank my parents, my mom and my dad, for their support."

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He also thanked his lawyers, embassy officials and the administration at the American University in Cairo for their roles in helping to secure his release.

Sweeney, 19, of Jefferson City, Missouri, arrived at a St. Louis airport late Saturday night and was greeted by about two dozen relatives and friends.

All three students were attending American University in Cairo on a semester-long, study-abroad program. They have said they did not do anything wrong, according to their parents.

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

Speaking to CNN on Sunday, Sweeney said he was "hoping to see politics in action" when he went close to the protests, but insisted, "we were in the sidestreets" and not in the thick of the demonstrations.

"We were right near a large crowd, apparently near the interior minister," he said, when the police "shot something into the crowd and we all sprinted away. As we were trying to regather ourselves, we found -- the three of us Americans -- found each other. And then someone came in plain clothes saying that they would take us to a safe place and help us out. The next thing we knew we were getting hit... The first night we got hit in the face in the back of the neck a number of times."

While he does not know who the plain-clothed people were, "I believe police," Sweeney said. "They were certainly working with the police. They were able to walk around the police where the protestors weren't."

Looking back, he said, "I have no regret that I went to the protests," but, "I went too close to violent scenes."

"Walking onto Mohamed Mahmoud street where there was violence was a bad idea," he said.

Adel Saeed, the general 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.

Joy Sweeney, Derrik's mother, said her family would celebrate Thanksgiving belatedly on Sunday.

Just three hours before the incident in Egypt, she said, she had talked to her son on the phone "and he said, 'Don't worry mom, we're safe. It's far away from where we are.'"

While she knew her son was in Egypt "to experience the culture," she said, "I didn't want him to be that close to the violence... that was a little too close for comfort for me."

Drexel President John Fry released a statement Saturday expressing relief at Porter's safe return and thanking all those involved.

Three Drexel students remain in Egypt and all of them want to stay as long as U.S. officials do not recommend they leave, Fry said.

Asked whether he wants to return to Egypt, Derrik Sweeney told CNN, "I really enjoyed most of my time there and hopefully one day," but, he added, "not very soon."