Detained Vt. college student released in Syria

By John Curran
Associated Press / April 1, 2011

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MONTPELIER, Vt.—Two weeks after he was detained in Syria while shooting photographs at a demonstration, a Vermont collegian was freed Friday and turned over to United States authorities.

Pathik "Tik" Root of Ripton, a student at Middlebury College who'd been studying Arabic in Damascus when he was taken by Syrian authorities, was released to the American ambassador there and was in good health.

"It is a good day," said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who had pressed Syrian officials for Root's release. "It is a really good day."

The 21-year-old Root was one of two Americans detained at the outbreak of political unrest in Syria. The other, 32-year-old engineer Mohammed Radwan, was also released Friday. Radwan, who's from Austin, Texas, was suspected of selling photos and video of demonstrations to a Colombian woman, according to the state-run news agency.

Syria's ambassador to the U.S., Imad Moustapha, called Leahy early Friday to tell him Root had been released from jail. Root, who couldn't immediately be reached for comment Friday, spoke with his mother and was expected to leave Syria as soon as possible.

Root went missing March 18. He last communicated with his father March 16.

He started an independent study course at Damascus University a week before he was detained, father Tom Root told the Burlington Free Press. Root didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Friday by The Associated Press.

It wasn't clear if Syrian authorities suspected the college student of wrongdoing.

Leahy, who had telephone conversations with Moustapha and U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford during Root's captivity, wouldn't say Friday what Syrian officials said about Root's detention.

"There were different rumors going around. Each one of the rumors they raised, I tried to tamp it down. Whatever suspicions they may have had, I was able to lay them to rest. The bottom line was wrong place, wrong time," Leahy said.

The news was welcomed at Middlebury College, which is located in Middlebury, Vt. Root's father and stepmother are biology professors there.

"Faculty, staff and students have anxiously awaited news about Tik's status throughout the two-week period when he was first missing and then in Syrian custody," college President Ron Liebowitz said.

"We are thrilled for his parents, Tom Root and Andi Lloyd, and their family now that they will be reunited, and we all look forward to seeing Tik when he returns to Vermont."