Australian reporter, US student held in Egypt: security

Egyptian authorities arrested 28-year-old NSW man Austin Mackell, US student Derek Ludovici and local translator Aliya Alwi in the industrial city of Mahalla al-Kobra overnight.

Security officials have accused them of trying to pay people to join a strike marking the first anniversary of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster as the country’s president.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it had been in contact with Mr Mackell.

“Consular officials from the Australian Embassy in Cairo have spoken to the man,” a DFAT spokesperson said.

“He has confirmed he is being treated appropriately by local police authorities and that he intends to engage a legal representative.”

Embassy officials were now seeking advice from Egyptian police on possible charges arising from the arrest, the spokesperson said.

Ms Alwi posted details of the ordeal on her Twitter account, writing early today Australian time that she and Mr Mackell were being transported to a military intelligence office in the nearby city of Tanta.

A few hours earlier, she wrote: “Report against us filed now. Many witnesses saw us ‘offering money to youth to vandalise and cause chaos’.”

Another tweet read: “Charges brought against of inciting protest and vandalism. Witnesses have been produced to confirm it.”

One of those witnesses was eight-years old, she wrote.

The trio apparently first believed the police were trying to protect them after they experienced some aggression from locals.

“Our car got rocked and beaten against the glass, got called a whore and all sorts of things. Police escorted us to station,” Ms Alwi wrote.

An unnamed security official mentioned that the trio would be interrogated by the attorney general’s office.

Cairo-based Australian journalist Jess Hill, who knows Mr Mackell, says he travelled to Mahalla to meet a trade union activist.

“What we know is that they were mobbed by residents,” she said.

“Their car was attacked and they were taken to a police station and initially it looks like they were just being kept there for their safety, and then witnesses were brought in to attest to that charge about bribing locals to strike.”

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