- (Photo: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih)
Three Americans are hiding in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo fearing that Egyptian authorities are looking to put them under arrest.
The U.S. citizens, one of whom is International Republican Institute Egypt Country Director Sam LaHood, have said they were "afraid of their lives" and have been prevented from flying out of Egypt, a CNN report revealed.
Egyptian security forces are reportedly looking for them after raiding the offices of several non-governmental organizations last month looking at groups that may have received illegal foreign funding and may have been operating without government licenses.
As a response to a protest by the U.S. and other non-governmental organizations, the Egyptian military rulers said they would stop the raids and return seized equipment and documents – however, the State Department revealed last week that a number of US citizens were still on a "no-exit" list.
LaHood, who is also the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, had previously said that while he felt physically safe, he feared Egyptian authorities looking into the investigations might arrest or put on trial the Americans, and are not permitting them to leave the nation.
"We are not aware of - that they're in any (physical) danger," said Jay Carney, a White House spokesman at a news briefing on Monday, CNN shared.
"We have - in our discussions with the SCAF, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces - we've made clear our concerns about this issue and our disappointment that these several citizens are not being allowed to depart Egypt in connection with the government's investigation into (non-governmental organizations)," Carney added.
What makes this a unique situation, according to U.S. officials, is that under the State Department criteria, U.S citizens may take refuge in the Embassy only if they fear for their personal safety, but not as a means to escape the country's jurisdiction.
Another spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, explained that the Americans were being persecuted, but they did not believe they were in direct physical danger. She also added that the Americans had approached embassy staff seeking refuge, and had been invited to stay by the staff.
She added that it would be difficult for the U.S. government to approve a request for the Americans to continue staying at the embassy and avoid Egyptian law unless they were in "danger of serious harm."
When pressed to answer how much information the State Department has over the condition of the Americans, Nuland repeated that as far as they are aware, the US citizens are not in physical danger.
"We have concerns about the fact that we have not been able to resolve this situation, and that is the message that we are giving the Egyptian Government in strongest terms," she explained.
"The list of charges leveled against them include working without an official permit from the Ministry of Social Solidarity and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, receiving foreign funds in violation of the law and spending such funds on activities that harmed the country," shared a translation of Monday's Al Shurouk newspaper in Cairo.
"Among those hit by the travel ban ... are 13 Americans and eight Europeans, mostly Serbians," the paper disclosed. It also warned that under no circumstances should Egyptian judicial rulings be swayed by foreign influence.