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Egypt bars six U.S. workers from leaving

Building tensions between the United States and Egypt flashed into the open Thursday when Cairo confirmed it has barred at least a half-dozen Americans from leaving the country and the Obama administration threatened explicitly to withhold its annual aid to the Egyptian military.

The travel ban came to light Thursday after the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-backed democracy-building group, disclosed that Egyptian authorities had stopped its Egypt director, Sam LaHood, at the Cairo airport Saturday before he could board a flight to Dubai.

LaHood is the son of Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation. He is one of six Americans working for the Republican Institute or its sister organization, the National Democratic Institute, whom Egypt has blocked from leaving as part of a politically charged criminal investigation into their activities.

Just a day before LaHood was detained, President Barack Obama had warned Egypt's leader, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, that this year's U.S. military aid hinged on satisfying new congressional legislation requiring that Egypt's military government take tangible steps toward democracy, the New York Times reports that three people briefed on the conversation said.

After the travel ban on the Americans became public Thursday, the administration made the warning public as well.

State Department officials said it was the first time in three decades that U.S. military aid to Egypt, $1.3 billion a year, was at risk.