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Hikers convicted of espionage in Iran return to US

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer say they were arrested after accidentally crossing the border into Iran during a trip to neighbouring Iraq in 2009.

From left: Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd leaving Oman yesterday.
From left: Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd leaving Oman yesterday.
Image: AP Photo/Sultan al-Hasani/PA

TWO AMERICANS held for more than two years in an Iranian prison on accusations of spying returned to the US today, ending a diplomatic ordeal that began with what they called a wrong turn into the wrong country.

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer arrived at Kennedy Airport in New York City at about 11am.

The two were released from prison last week. They arrived Wednesday in Oman under a $1 million bail deal and were embraced by relatives.

They were detained along with fellow hiker Sarah Shourd in July 2009 along the Iran-Iraq border. They say they were only hiking in Iraq’s relatively peaceful Kurdish region and may have wrongly ended up in Iran.

Before boarding the plane in the Omani capital of Muscat last night, the men made brief statements and thanked Oman’s ruler for helping secure their release.

“We hope to someday return to this wonderful country, but for now we are eager to go home at last,” Fattal told reporters.

Bauer said he won’t forget the feeling of seeing their loved ones waiting for them in Oman.

“The joy of embracing them all after so long will stay with us forever,” he said.

Taut negotiations

A furious diplomatic effort led to the release of Shourd about a year ago, and negotiations continued for the two men. Last month, Fattal and Bauer were sentenced to eight years in prison each for illegal entry into Iran and espionage.

The first hint of change in the case came last week when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Fattal and Bauer could be released within days. But wrangling from within the country’s leadership delayed efforts. Iranian defence attorney Masoud Shafiei secured the necessary judicial approval Wednesday for the bail — $500,000 for each man.

Hours later, the gates of Tehran’s Evin prison opened and the Americans headed in a convoy with diplomats to Tehran’s Mehrabad airport.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry called their release a gesture of Islamic mercy.

Until their release, the last previous direct contact family members had with Bauer and Fattal was in May 2010, when their mothers were permitted a short visit in Tehran, which Iranian officials used for high-profile propaganda.

Since her release last year, Shourd has lived in Oakland, California. Bauer, a freelance journalist, grew up in Onamia, Minnesota, and Fattal, an environmental activist, is from Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Bauer proposed marriage to Shourd while they were in jail.

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Associated Press

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