TEL AVIV – Americans barred from leaving Egypt due to their involvement in pro-democracy work have taken shelter at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, it was reported today.
A U.S. official confirmed to ABC News that individuals are at the embassy but no details were provided.
The Associated Press reported earlier that three Americans were at the embassy.
On Jan. 21, Sam LaHood of the International Republican Institute tried to fly out of Cairo to Doha, Qatar. He was told he would not be allowed to leave the country and later learned that at least five other Americans, along with other non-Egyptians, had been barred from leaving Egypt because of an investigation into foreign-funded democracy work.
ABC News reported on Friday that three Americans, senior managers from LaHood’s organization, are being prevented from leaving the country, as are three Americans working for the National Democratic Institute in Cairo as trainers and election observers.
LaHood, son of Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, said Friday there is “no concrete reason to be optimistic at this point.” Asked whether he fears arrest, he responded that “anything’s possible.”
Sam LaHood could not be reached today by phone or e-mail; it is unclear whether he or his colleagues are among those at the embassy.
Julie Hughes, director of the National Democratic Institute, an NGO whose staffers were included in the travel ban, told ABC News today that none of those at the embassy work for her organization. She declined to comment on who those at the embassy are.
Both the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute were among 17 NGOs raided at the end of last year for receiving foreign funds and working without the necessary permission from Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, permission the organizations say they have been working to obtain for years from the Egyptian authorities, both during President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and from the military council that took his place last year.
The council has accused other countries of trying to destabilize Egypt. Its wide- scale investigation has targeted some 300 groups, LaHood said.
“I do think there’s something larger at work here, ” LaHood told ABC News last week. “There’s a lot of speculation about what’s behind this.”
“I find a hard time injecting logic into this situation,” he said.
The episode has brought U.S.-Egypt relations to new lows and thrown into question the $1.3 billion in funding the U.S. gives the Egyptian military each year, part of the 1979 Camp David Accords that brought peace between Israel and Egypt.
Over the weekend, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reached out to his Egyptian counterpart Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council, a Pentagon spokesman said today. Panetta “asked that Field Marshal Tantawi take steps to lift the travel ban on American citizens wishing to leave Egypt, and expressed concern over restrictions placed on NGOs operating in Egypt, ” the spokesman said.