Syrians release 2 Americans detained at protests

AP News
Posted: Apr 01, 2011 1:54 PM
Syrians release 2 Americans detained at protests

Two Americans detained at the outbreak of political unrest in Syria were released Friday after two weeks in custody, said a relative of one of them and American officials.

Both Americans _ a Vermont college student studying Arabic in Syria and an engineer from Austin, Texas, who had been working in the country _ were arrested while taking photographs of demonstrations on March 18, according to Syrian state media.

The protesters, whose campaign is related to the wave of unrest across the Arab world, are demanding political reforms from one of the region's most repressive regimes. Syria's government-run TV has been blaming foreigners, among others, for the unrest. And President Bashar Assad this week said the turmoil was the result of a "foreign conspiracy."

One of the Americans, 32-year-old engineer Mohammed Radwan, was accused of selling photos and video of demonstrations to a Colombian woman, according to the state-run news agency. On the day he was detained, Radwan had Tweeted that he was at a mosque in Damascus where security forces were clashing with anti-government protesters, according to a cousin, Tarek Shalaby.

Syria's state news agency had said Radwan also confessed to visiting Israel. Syria is formally at war with the Jewish state, and visiting Israel is considered taboo. The accusation is sometimes used as a hint that they believe the person is a spy.

Shalaby said Friday his cousin was planning to fly to Cairo. Radwan, who is from Austin, Texas, also has Egyptian citizenship.

The other American, Pathik Root, is a 21-year-old student at Middlebury College from Ripton, Vermont.

He had been studying Arabic in Damascus as part of a program through Damascus University.

Patrick Leahy, a Democratic U.S. senator who was working to resolve the situation, received word from the Syrian ambassador to Washington that Root had been released, said John Goodrow, an official at the senator's Vermont office.

Root was in the process of obtaining an exit permit and was expected to leave Syria as soon as possible, Goodrow told The Associated Press in Vermont.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner confirmed the two Americans were released. He lamented that American officials were granted no consular access to the pair during their detention. He said American officials were now in touch with both of them.