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Georgetown student in Egypt: 'Not sure I was going to live'

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ST. LOUIS (AP/ABC7) - Georgetown University student Derrik Sweeney, one of three American students arrested during protests in Cairo, says they were hit and threatened with guns, and described that first night in custody as the scariest of his life.

(Photo: Associated Press)

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"I was not sure I was going to live," college student Derrik Sweeney, 19, said.

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Sweeney spoke with The Associated Press shortly after arriving at St. Louis' international airport late Saturday.

Sweeney, 19, Gregory Porter, 19, and Luke Gates, 21, were arrested a week ago on the roof of a university building near Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square.

Officials accused them of throwing firebombs at security forces fighting with protesters. But Sweeney says they "never did anything to hurt anyone."

Three American college students detained for several days in Egypt as deadly protests swept Cairo have flown home to freedom, one describing an ordeal so terrifying he wasn't sure he would survive it.

"I was not sure I was going to live," Sweeney told The Associated Press by telephone moments after his relieved parents and other family members swamped him with hugs as he got off a flight in St. Louis.

Sweeney, the last of the three to arrive late Saturday, recounted how tear gas clouded Cairo's streets and he heard armored vehicles and what sounded like shots being fired just before his arrest a week earlier. Suddenly, the drama involving thousands of demonstrators in the streets had become intensely personal.

Egyptian authorities later announced that they had arrested Sweeney and two others studying abroad - 19-year-old Gregory Porter and 21-year-old Luke Gates - on the rooftop of a university building near Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square and a focal point of protests raging in that capital.

Officials had accused the young men of throwing firebombs at Egyptian security forces who were clashing with the protesters. Sweeney said Saturday that he and the other Americans "never did anything to hurt anyone," never were on the rooftop and never handled or threw explosives.

Sweeney said he and the others were told by a group the night of their arrest that they would be led "to a safe place" amid the chaos engulfing the nearby square. Next, he said, they found themselves being taken into custody, hit, and forced to lay for about six hours in a near fetal position in the darkness with their hands behind their backs.

The worst, he said, was when they were threatened with guns.

"They said if we moved at all, even an inch, they would shoot us. They were behind us with guns," Sweeney said in the brief interview.

That night in detention - "probably the scariest night of my life ever" - gave way to much better treatment in ensuing days, he said. Sweeney didn't elaborate on who he believed was holding him the opening night but he called the subsequent treatment humane.

"There was really marked treatment between the first night and the next three nights or however long it was. The first night, it was kind of rough. They were hitting us; they were saying they were going to shoot us and they were putting us in really uncomfortable positions. But after that first night, we were treated in a just manner ... we were given food when we needed and it was OK."

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