Two Canadians released from an Egyptian prison early Sunday have been blocked from leaving the country, pending further investigation into allegations of their involvement in terrorism-related offences.
The sudden release of John Greyson and Tarek Loubani from Tora Prison, south of Cairo, came after six weeks of imprisonment without charge.
At some point on Sunday, in the hours following their release from prison, the men were reportedly prevented from boarding a Frankfurt-bound plane after officials at Cairo International Airport found the men's names on a no-fly advisory.
Family members in touch with the men would not reveal their whereabouts on Monday, but said they were in safe hands with Canadian officials. Cecilia Greyson, Mr. Greyson's sister, said: "They're in a safe location with consular staff."
It was unclear whether the failure to allow the men to leave Egypt was a mere technicality or part of a more serious development aimed at preventing their return to Canada pending completion of a criminal investigation.
Sunday was a national holiday marking the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. A lifting of the no-fly order naming Mr. Greyson and Dr. Loubani could have been delayed because of the closure of all government offices. But the travel ban may be more than a simple bureaucratic oversight.
A lawyer representing Tarek Loubani and John Greyson was to have submitted papers asking Egypt's prosecutor general to lift the travel ban. By late Monday afternoon, however, after the end of the Egyptian working day, lawyer Marwa Farouk had yet to deliver the formal request.
A spokesman for the prosecutor-general said the two men were still under investigation. Ahmed el Rakib told The Globe and Mail: "We cannot close the case [against the Canadians] until we are finished with our investigation. We are still completing it, and there are other persons accused in the case."
He declined to say how many others are part of the case, but it is believed that they number in the hundreds and may be as high as 600.
The Canadian government is aware of "possible bureaucratic complications" in the status of the two men, said a spokeswoman for Lynne Yelich, a junior minister responsible for consular affairs.
"Canadian officials continue to work tirelessly to facilitate Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson's departure from Egypt. We look forward to seeing these two Canadians return home shortly," Adria Minsky said by e-mail.
Mr. Greyson's sister said she doesn't know what to make of Mr. el Rakib's remarks, but added that the men's families and friends remain hopeful that they will return to Canada in "a few days."
"We understood from the beginning that their release from prison and their eventual exit from Egypt would take at least a few days. We were never under the impression it would be a quick process," she said. "We're not surprised by the delay."
Ms. Greyson said her brother and Dr. Loubani are in regular contact with relatives and friends, and have said they're having trouble sleeping because they're "so excited." They've also been asking about a series of mundane issues, such as logistics for their return to Canada and whether their bills were paid while they were in prison.
"They're very happy and healthy and really feeling very elated that this process is almost over and they're very excited to be returning home soon," she said.
The travel ban came as an apparent surprise to lawyers for the the men.
Ms. Farouk, who met regularly with the two men during their imprisonment in Tora, was not at her desk at the Shalakany Law Office on either Sunday or Monday. The lead lawyer on the case, Adam el Shalakany, was also not in his office on Monday.
Canadian consular staff would not have assisted the men in booking their flight out of Cairo on Sunday without some confidence the men were free to leave the country. But an embassy staff member declined to comment on the development on Monday, citing embassy policy.
Egyptian prosecutors have claimed that the hundreds arrested on Aug. 16, along with Mr. Greyson and Dr. Loubani, were "co-operating" with members of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.
The arrests were made after hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters took refuge in Al-Fateh Mosque in Ramses Square in central Cairo. The mosque was surrounded by Egyptian security forces and civilian vigilantes opposed to followers of the overthrown Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi.
Dr. Loubani and Mr. Greyson, in a joint statement released from prison in late September, said that Dr. Loubani, a medical doctor, had treated the injured in the Ramses Square area while Mr. Greyson, a filmmaker, had filmed the scene. In the statement, the two men did not, however, say that they were inside the mosque at the time of the standoff.