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Fearing detention, American workers shelter at US embassy in Cairo

Written By Ivan Kolev on Monday, January 30, 2012 | 1:09 PM

Several American workers facing prosecution at the hands of the Egyptian government took shelter at the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sunday, fearing they could be detained.

"A handful of U.S. citizens opted to stay at the U.S. embassy compound while waiting for permission to leave Egypt," State Department spokesman Noel Clay told FOX News Channel.

The irregular action, which effectively protects the Americans from being arrested (because the embassy is considered to be on U.S. soil), was taken after several U.S. workers at non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were barred from flying out of Cairo a week ago.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's son Sam LaHood, the director of the Egyptian program for the International Republican Institute (IRI), is among those on the Egyptian government's "no fly list."

Egyptian authorities raided more than a dozen offices belonging to local and foreign rights groups in late December, including at least two American ones, drawing a sharp rebuke from the State Department, which said it was "deeply concerned" by the actions.

The raids, part of an investigation into alleged illicit foreign funding, targeted the American groups National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the IRI -- an NGO operating throughout the world that has close ties to GOP congressional leadership.

A State Department official told The Washington Post, who first reported the story, that it was not believed the "handful" of NGO staff who had decided to take shelter at the Cairo embassy were in "immediate physical danger."

Several Washington lobbyists announced Saturday they are ending their contract with the Egyptian government, as the controversy deepens over raids conducted on the offices of American advocacy groups.

Sam LaHood told FOX by phone Friday that an Egyptian judge claims he, along with the other Americans barred from leaving the country, worked for an unregistered NGO and took a salary.

"We're kind of expecting the worst," LaHood said. "There hasn't been a lot of movement nothing has really changed. If it does go to trial, a trial could last up to one year in a case that's as wide-ranging as this one is. But the penalty for that is six months to five years in jail so these are very serious charges."

Meanwhile, a group of senior Egyptian generals landed in Washington on Sunday to try to mend the rift between the two countries, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Egyptian delegation will be in Washington for more than a week, U.S. officials told The Journal, for meetings at the State Department, with members of Congress and at the Pentagon. The raids and travel bans are likely to be discussed, these officials said.

They said the State Department will make clear that U.S. financial assistance to Egypt could be cut if more progress is not made on democratic reforms in coming months.

"This isn't something we want to see happen," said a U.S. official. "But the Egyptians need to understand that there are certain requirements they need to meet in order to placate Capitol Hill."

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