Egypt drops charges against 3 U.S. students

Updated at 2:53 p.m. ET

Three American university students arrested amid violent protests in Cairo have been unexpectedly set free, according to a local lawyer involved with setting up their defense.

Derrik Sweeney and Gregory Porter, both 19, and Luke Gates, 21, were arrested Monday in Cairo and accused of throwing firebombs at security forces from the roof of a building on the American University in Cairo campus, where they were enrolled in classes.

The lawyer who confirmed their release to CBS News says the Egyptian public prosecutor declined to file any criminal charges against the young men.

Joy Sweeney, mother of Derrik Sweeney, tells CBS Radio Network that a U.S. Embassy representative in Cairo told her the students were out of the courthouse and had been taken - with an attorney - to be examined by doctors. The news was a welcome relief for the holidays.

"I was elated, I was absolutely elated," Sweeney told The Associated Press. "I can't wait to give him a huge hug and tell him how much I love him."

After the examination, Joy Sweeney says, they were to be taken back to the police station for their formal release. That that process could take hours, and they were then to be dropped off back at their dorms at the American University in Cairo.

However, Kevin Sweeney, father of Derrik Sweeney told CBS News that, while an Egyptian judge approved the release of the three American students, the "process requires something," and they're being held in a room without furniture and sleeping on the floor until at least Sunday. He's outraged, saying: "We wouldn't do that to ax murderers in our country.... I think it's just appalling they would make kids sleep on the floor."

Sweeney's wife Joy had spoken to the U.S. Consular General in Cairo who relayed this information.

Just hours earlier, a report on Egyptian state television said the three young men were to be held for at least another four days.

"The Public Prosecution has ordered the detention of the three Americans that were arrested in Tahrir Square during the ongoing clashes between protesters and security forces for four days," the news anchor on Egypt TV said Thursday.

There was no immediate explanation for the apparent dramatic shift in position by the Egyptian authorities.

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The Egypt TV report aired before the shock announcement also showed new video of the three young men in custody, holding the bottles allegedly found in a backpack they were carrying when arrested. One appears to contain a yellowish liquid. The video appeared to have been shot at the same time as a previous clip released by the Egyptian authorities on Tuesday. They are lined up against a wall, looking nervous. In the new clip, two of the Americans are holding plastic bottles, one of which contains the liquid.

"They were found carrying a bag containing a bottle filled with fuel, empty bottles and a camera," the Egypt TV report said, adding that the Americans claimed the bag belonged to Egyptian friends from their dorm.

Derrik Sweeney's father Kevin says his son insists he was merely watching the protests from the roof, and that he never threw anything.

Sweeney's mother admitted on Wednesday that she was had been losing hope for a quick resolution.

Joy Sweeney said a US. Embassy official told the family that any decision on charging or releasing her son was unlikely before Saturday.

The mother also says the family was told the students were questioned late into Wednesday night and that significant progress was unlikely Thursday. She says the embassy official said Friday is a holiday in Egypt and that work is not done on Sunday.

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