Egypt arrests US student, Australian journalist

Published: Saturday, Feb. 11 2012 10:46 a.m. MST

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, right, shakes hands with Lt. Gen. Sami Anan, left, upon his arrival to meet with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's ruling military council, at the Ministry of Defense in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012. The Pentagon's top general is in Egypt for security talks amid tensions over Cairo's move to bring criminal charges against 19 American pro-democracy workers. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with counterpart Lt. Gen. Sami Anan and top Egyptian military leader, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

Khalil Hamra, Pool, Associated Press

CAIRO — Egyptian authorities arrested an Australian journalist and an American student on Saturday on accusation of trying to bribe people to join a strike marking the first anniversary of Hosni Mubarak's ouster that demands a faster transition to civilian rule.

The latest move against foreigners came the same day as the top U.S. general met with Egypt's military rulers as the two allies face rising tensions over a crackdown against Western-funded pro-democracy groups.

A spokesman for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said that he discussed "a wide range of issues related to the long-standing security relationship between our two countries, including the issue involving U.S. NGOs" with the head of Egypt's military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

Egypt's criminal investigation of U.S. democracy advocates has prompted calls in Washington to cut the country's aid package.

A security official identified the two foreigners arrested as a U.S. student enrolled at the American University in Cairo and an Australian journalist. He said that their Egyptian guide was also detained in the city of Mahalla al-Kobra after residents in the city told police the three were handing out money to people in order to encourage them to participate in the strike, a security official said.

The northern industrial city has seen violent worker strikes in the past.

The accusation against the American and the Australian reinforces the generals' line that the strike and other protests against their handling of the post-Mubarak transition are the work of "foreign hands" and foreign finance.

On her Twitter account, Aliya Alwi wrote that both she and freelance journalist Austin Mackell were told they will be transferred to a military intelligence office.

"Report against us filed now. Many witnesses saw us 'offering money to youth to vandalize and cause chaos'," she wrote on her Twitter account Saturday, adding that witnesseses were testifying to police against them.

The security official said the three would be interrogated by the attorney general's office. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

The arrests follow warnings late Friday by the country's ruling military council that Egypt faces "conspiracies "— a message activists say seeks to undermine their campaign aimed at pushing the generals to relinquish power.

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