This year, the holiday of Thanksgiving will carry a special meaning for the families of three U.S. students in Cairo.
On Thursday -- the day of the historic American holiday -- an Egyptian court ordered the release of the three students, all of whom attend the American University in Cairo, according to a source who spoke with media on condition of anonymity.
The three were arrested Sunday for hurling firebombs from the roof of a university building near Tahrir Square during renewed Egyptian Revolution protests. The students, 19-year-old Derrik Sweeney of Georgetown University, 21-year-old Luke Gates of Indiana University, and 19-year-old Gregory Porter of Drexel University, threw firebombs at security forces who were fighting with protesters.
The three students first met with a U.S. diplomat Wednesday morning, according to a university spokeswoman. "He reports they are in good health and being treated well," Morgan Roth told CNN. The students were questioned by Egyptian authorities prior to their visit with the American consul, but with a U.S. Embassy attorney present in the room.
Just one month ago, another American college student, dual U.S.-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel, was finally freed by an Egyptian court after spending nearly five months behind bars. Grapel, too, had arrived in Egypt to "learn more about Arab culture." He was arrested during "Arab Spring" clashes between protesters and police, but it took delicate negotiations between U.S. diplomats, Israeli officials and others before the Egyptians finally decided to let him go -- for a price. Israel was forced to free 25 Egyptian security prisoners in exchange for Grapel's freedom, and the U.S. was strong-armed into agreeing to sell high-end aeronautics to Cairo.
Various tweets from a Twitter account in Gates' name appeared to indicate that Gates and Sweeney, at least, had been involved in some of the recent protests in Cairo.
A tweet on Saturday noted "we were throwing rocks and one guy accidentally threw his phone." On Sunday, "Earlier tonight rubber bullets a charge and then a retreat," said a tweet posted Sunday from his account. The post added his knee and elbow were hurt. A Facebook account showed a male resembling Sweeney in the thick of the protests in Cairo, CNN reported, but could not independently confirm the authenticity of the posts.
The families of both young men said in interviews that the students have long had an interest in other cultures. Sweeney's mother described her son as "peaceful, harmonious."