August 8, 2006 -- Eleven Egyptian students who were supposed to travel to a Montana university after flying to JFK airport late last month disappeared in New York, spurring federal authorities to issue a nationwide alert, officials said yesterday.
The students - who were traveling with six classmates from Mansoura University in Egypt - had their student visas revoked for failing to show up at Montana State University in Bozeman, the officials said.
The other six students made it to the college.
"The FBI and ICE [Immigration and Custom Enforcement] would like to locate these 11 students in order to speak with them," said FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko after the "be-on-the-lookout" alert was issued to all police in the United States.
Kolko said there is no reason to believe the missing students, all men around 20 years old, represent a threat.
"At this point, all they have done is not show up for a scheduled academic program, and their visas have been revoked," Kolko said.
"We do not know of any association with any terrorist or criminal groups. There is no threat associated with these men. We have simply asked law enforcement's assistance in locating them so that the FBI and ICE may interview them."
Rep. Peter King (R-L.I.), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said the situation "has to be taken very seriously."
"Having a number of students from an Arab country arriving on student visas and disappearing is cause for concern," he said.
Montana State University Provost David Dooley said 17 Mansoura University students signed up for a 32-day cultural-exchange program to intensively study English, learn about Montana history and go on several field trips.
They arrived at JFK on a flight from Egypt on July 29, but only one managed to clear immigration in time to make a connecting flight, Dooley said.
By July 31, five others had arrived in Bozeman, but the rest were unaccounted for.
Dooley said the ones who showed up "were not certain about the status of their fellow students and why they haven't made it."
MSU alerted federal Homeland Security and Mansoura officials and notified the students via e-mail they had 24 hours to show up in Bozeman. None of them did, Dooley said.
He added, "We're very disappointed by this. It would be regrettable if the misadventures or irresponsibility of a number of students damaged these kinds of programs."
Officials at the Egyptian Consulate in New York and the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, D.C., said they were unfamiliar with the situation.
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