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US citizen dies in Egyptian prison after hunger strike

U.S. citizen Mustafa Kassem died in Egyptian prison, where he has been since 2013, after going on a hunger strike.

Kassem, 54, died of heart failure following the hunger strike, which he is believed to have started in September 2018, according to Pretrial Rights International, who represented the American captive.

“Last Thursday, he ceased taking liquids and was shortly thereafter transferred to a local hospital, where he passed away today in the late afternoon (local time),” the Pretrial Rights International said in a statement obtained by ABC News

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A source close to the family told ABC News that the Egyptian foreign ministry informed them of his death.

A State Department source told the network that it is “still premature to talk about” potential consequences to place on Egypt for Kassem’s death but added that, “we’re going to talk about it.” 

Officials allege that the night before Kassem was scheduled to return to the U.S. from Egypt he participated in protests against a military takeover that had removed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi a month before. 

The U.S. citizen was sentenced to 15 years in prison in a mass trial with more than 700 co-defendants. When he announced he was going on hunger strike, he sent letters to President Trump and Vice President Pence. 

“Dear President Trump: As an American beginning the hunger strike that could leave my two young children without a father and make my wife a widow, I pray that you secure my freedom,” he reportedly wrote in letters.

David Schenker, the assistant secretary of State for near eastern affairs, said that the State Department needs to raise “our serious concerns” about U.S. citizens detained in Egypt and called Kassem’s death “needless, tragic and avoidable” in a transcript provided to The Hill.

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A State Department spokesperson told ABC News “several” other U.S. citizens remain in captivity but declined to provide the specific number.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted that there are at least six in the country.

—Updated at 8:47 p.m.

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