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2 Americans detained during Syria unrest

A Vermont father has enlisted the help of U.S. officials in trying to find the whereabouts of his 21-year-old son who authorities say has been detained in Syria.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Syrian authorities have detained two Americans amid an unprecedented wave of protests in the repressive Middle East nation, relatives and state media said Saturday.

Syria's state news agency Sana alleged that a man with dual U.S.-Egyptian citizenship had "confessed" to selling photos and videos of demonstrations to a Colombian woman. He was later identified by relatives as Mohammed Radwan, 32, of Austin Texas.

Syrian government television has been blaming foreigners, among others, for the unrest that began more than a week ago.

Radwan's cousin, Nora Shalaby, told The Associated Press that she last heard from him on Friday when he tweeted that he was at a mosque in Damascus where security forces were clashing with anti-government protesters.

Shalaby said her cousin was an engineer and had been working in Syria.

The state news agency said Radwan also confessed to visiting Israel. Syria is formally at war with the Jewish state, and visiting Israel is considered taboo. The accusation is sometimes used as a hint that they believe the person is a spy.

Meanwhile, a Vermont man said his 21-year-old son Pathik "Tik" Root — who had been missing since March 18 — has been found to be safe in Syrian custody.

Tom Root said his son, a Middlebury College student who had been studying Arabic in Damascus as part of a program through Damascus University — was detained during a demonstration in the capital.

Root said in a message posted Saturday on Middlebury's website that he believes his son was watching, and not participating, in the demonstration.

He said he had "great news" from Syria's ambassador to Washington, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and others that his son remains in Syrian custody and is safe.

"We very much appreciate the efforts of Ambassador Imad Moustapha and Senator Leahy in continuing to work to bring this complex situation to a resolution," Root wrote, adding, "please know how much we value everyone's good wishes and hopes."

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. was aware of reports that two American citizens have been detained in Syria and said U.S. Embassy personnel are reaching out to Syrian authorities to obtain more information.

The Syrian Embassy in Washington was closed and officials couldn't be reached for comment.

“We’re on edge, but we’re dealing with it,” Tom Root told his hometown newspaper, The Addison County Independent. 

His father said Root's goal is to learn more about Middle Eastern people and educate Westerners about them to help dispel what he called "misperceptions" about the Middle East and Muslims.

Tom Root, who is a neuroscience professor at Middlebury, said he believes his son had gone out to watch the protests and was possibly picked up by police at the time.

In January, Tik Root had been evacuated from Middlebury College’s study abroad program in Egypt due to unrest. After his return home to Vermont, he told the Independent that he was trying to get back to the Middle East.

"I’m looking to go back to Damascus,” he told the newspaper. staff contributed to this report from The Associated Press.