Photo Gallery: American Hikers Released

TEHRAN, Iran (WCCO/AP) — After more than two years in Iranian custody, two Americans convicted as spies took their first steps toward home Wednesday as they bounded down from a private jet and into the arms of family for a joyful reunion in the Gulf state of Oman.

The families called this “the best day of our lives,” and President Barack Obama said their release — under a $1 million bail-for-freedom deal — “wonderful news.”

The release capped complicated diplomatic maneuvers over a week of confusing signals by Iran’s leadership on the fate of Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who expressed their relief and joy Wednesday afternoon.

“We are so happy we are free and relieved we are free. Our deepest gratitude goes to his majesty … of Oman for obtaining our release,” said Fattal. “We are sincerely grateful to the government of Oman for hosting us and our families.”

“Two years in prison is too long and we sincerely hope for the freedom of other political prisoners and other unjustly imprisoned people in America and Iran,” said Bauer.

Although the fate of the two gripped America, it was on the periphery of the larger showdowns between Washington and Tehran that include Iran’s nuclear program and its ambitions to widen military and political influence in the Middle East and beyond. But — for a moment at least — U.S. officials may be adding words of thanks in addition to their calls for alarm over Iran.

For Tehran, it was a chance to court some goodwill after sending a message of defiance with hard-line justice in the July 2009 arrests of the Americans along the Iran-Iraq border. The Americans always maintained they were innocent hikers.

“Today can only be described as the best day of our lives,” said a statement from their families. “We have waited for nearly 26 months for this moment and the joy and relief we feel at Shane and Josh’s long-awaited freedom knows no bounds.”

“We now all want nothing more than to wrap Shane and Josh in our arms, catch up on two lost years and make a new beginning, for them and for all of us,” the statement added.

Obama called it “wonderful, wonderful news about the hikers, we are thrilled … It’s a wonderful day for them and for us.”

The families waited on the tarmac at a royal airfield near the main international airport in Oman’s capital, Muscat. Also returning to Oman was Sarah Shourd, who was arrested with Bauer and Fattal but freed a year ago. She received a marriage proposal from Bauer while in prison.

At about 20 minutes before midnight, Fattal and Bauer — wearing jeans and casual shirts — raced down the steps from the blue-and-white plane. They made no statements to reporters before walking into the airport terminal building, which was guarded by security officials. The men appeared thin, but in good health.

“We’re so happy we are free,” Fattal told reporters in Oman. The two men made brief statements before leaving the airport with their families.

“Two years in prison is too long,” Bauer said, and hoped their release from prison will also bring “freedom for political prisoners in America and Iran.”

In many ways, the release was a mirror image of the scene last year when Shourd was freed on $500,000 bail. That deal, too, was mediated by Oman, an Arabian peninsula sultanate with close ties to both Tehran and Washington. A statement from Oman said it hoped the release would lead to better ties between Iran and the U.S.

The gray metal gates of Tehran’s Evin prison finally opened for Shourd — as it did for her companions on Wednesday — as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was preparing for the spotlight in New York at the U.N.’s annual gathering of world leaders last year. He is scheduled to address the world body again Thursday.

Just a month ago, Bauer and Fattal — both 29 — were appealing their eight-year prison terms for espionage and illegal entry into Iran. They denied the charges and said they were merely hikers in Iraq’s relatively peaceful Kurdistan region who wandered close to Iran’s border.

The first hint of change came last week when Ahmadinejad said they could be released within days.

But then came the voice of the hard-line ruling clerics, who have waged a stinging campaign against the president and his allies in recent months as part of power struggle.

The clerics made it clear: Only they have the authority to set the timing and ground rules to release the men. After several days of halting progress, their defense attorney secured the necessary judicial approval for the bail on Wednesday.

“I have finished the job that I had to do as their lawyer,” said their defense attorney Masoud Shafiei. He obtained signatures of two judges on a bail-for-freedom deal. A $1 million bail — $500,000 for each one — was posted.

Hours later, the men were in a convoy with Swiss and Omani diplomats headed to Tehran’s aging Mehrabad airport — whose designers in the 1950s included the late American architect William Pereira. One of the last Tehran landmarks on the convoy’s route was the massive Azadi Square, which is used for military parades but also was a temporary hub for protesters after Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009.

Oman — ruled by a lute-playing sultan — has acted as mediator in the releases and the apparent transfer point for the bail money because of U.S. economic sanctions on Iran. Oman also plays a strategic role in the region by sharing control with Iran of the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf, which is the route for 40 percent of the world’s oil tanker traffic.

Switzerland represents U.S. diplomatic interests in Iran because the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iraq also sent envoys to neighboring Iran during the negotiations over the release.

In one possible parting shot by Iran, the release came just minutes before Obama addressed the U.N. General Assembly. There was no direct evidence that Iran timed the American’s freedom to overshadow Obama’s speech, but Iran has conducted international political stagecraft in the past.

Most famously, Iran waited until just moments after Ronald Reagan’s presidential inauguration in January 1981 to free 52 American hostages held for 444 days at the former U.S. Embassy after it was stormed by militants backing Iran’s Islamic Revolution. The timing was seen as a way to embarrass ex-President Jimmy Carter for his backing of Iran’s former monarch. Though the release eases one point of tension between Iran and the U.S., major conflicts still persist.

Washington and European allies worry Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as cover to develop atomic weapons and have urged for even stronger sanctions to pressure Tehran. Iran denies any efforts to make nuclear weapons. Iran, in turn, is deeply concerned about the U.S. military on its borders in Iraq and Afghanistan, and sharply denounces U.S. influence in the Middle East.

The London-based rights group Amnesty International called the release of the Americans a “long overdue step.”

“Iranian authorities have finally seen sense” and have agreed to release Bauer and Fattal, said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa.

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. Iranian officials also used the reunion for high-profile propaganda: Using extensive clips on its international English-language TV and its web site.

In recent days, Iran has used the men’s pending release to draw attention to Iranians in U.S. prisons and difficulties faced by their families such as securing visas for visits.

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 suburban Philadelphia.

Shourd and Bauer had been living together in Damascus, Syria, where Bauer was working as a freelance journalist and Shourd as an English teacher. Fattal, an environmental activist, went to visit them in July 2009 shortly before their trip to northern Iraq.

Their case of the three Americans closely parallels that of freelance journalist Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American who convicted of spying before being released in May 2009. Saberi was sentenced to eight years in prison, but an appeals court reduced that to a two-year suspended sentence and let her return to the U.S.

In May 2009, a French academic, Clotilde Reiss, also was freed after her 10-year sentence on espionage-related charges was commuted.

Last year, Iran freed an Iranian-American businessman, Reza Taghavi, who was held for 29 months for alleged links to a bombing in the southern city of Shiraz, which killed 14 people. Taghavi denied any role in the attack.

The following family members were in Muscat, Oman to greet Bauer and Fattal: Al Bauer (father of Shane Bauer), Cindy Hickey (mother), Nicole Lindstrom and Shannon Bauer (sisters); Jacob Fattal (father of Josh Fattal), Laura Fattal (mother), Alex Fattal (brother); Sarah Shourd (fiancée of Shane Bauer and good friend of Josh Fattal, detained with them and released in September 2010)

The families of the hikers released the following statement about the release:

“Today can only be described as the best day of our lives.  We have waited for nearly 26 months for this moment and the joy and relief we feel at Shane and Josh’s long-awaited freedom knows no bounds.  We now all want nothing more than to wrap Shane and Josh in our arms, catch up on two lost years and make a new beginning, for them and for all of us.  For now, we especially would like to thank His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman and his envoy Dr. Salem Al Ismaily; our lawyer, Mr. Masoud Shafii; and the Swiss Ambassador to Iran, Livia Leu Agosti, and her colleagues, for working to make today a reality.  At the same time, our deep gratitude extends to many, many others, from governments, institutions and noted campaigners to tens of thousands of people around the world.  Their support for Shane, Josh, Sarah and our families has sustained us and comforted us throughout this time.  Our appreciation for the warmth and love of our fellow human beings is unending and we know that Shane and Josh will always be grateful.”

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Comments (48)
  1. AP says:

    send those idiots back.

    1. JM says:

      You are a mean person.

      1. Send them Back! says:

        @JM they played with fire and got burned! How smart do you think they are going to a place that is that Dangerous and knew that this could happen they people are STUPID!

  2. Ellen says:

    For their families sake, I’m glad they are free. Hope they learned something from the ordeal….don’t mess around in dangerous mideastern countries!

    1. Send the parents to Iran says:

      They should have stayed in Jail. And they also should have sent the little liar back to stand trial. Then send the parents over for an extended stay

  3. AM says:

    And they still call these idiots “hikers”. Does anyone really believe that?

    1. markH says:

      Calling them “hikers” may be a misnomer, but they certainly were not spying for ours or any governmental entity. For you or anyone to believe this nonsense demonstrates that the ignorant are aways among us. Peace.

      1. AM says:

        Ok so if calling them “hikers” is a misnomer what the do you call them? Lost tourists which just happened to be walking around in one of the most dangerous places on earth? It’s not like you just step over from Richfiled to Minneapolis and did not happend to notice it. Get real.

        1. Jim says:

          The public doesn’t know if they are just hikers or spies. markH doesn’t know more than anyone else, despite his lame post.

          1. MARK says:

            Methinks markH just fell off the turnip truck.

        2. markH says:

          You should step out of your comfortable little corner in the world and understand that there are many places in the world that don’t have signs indicating travel from one comfy suburb to another-let alone demarcating one desert nation from another. I stand by my statement; conspiracy theorists are always among us-this is the kind of ignorance and misinformation one encounters often among the paranoid and delusional who cannot tell the difference between fantasy and fact. Peace.

  4. David Sparks says:

    Future multi millionaires cuz they “got lost” hiking. Sik of this dumb assed story. whats the movie or book gonna be titled??? ridiculous….Hike yer butts to canada and this time call yer mothers ahead of time so i can throw up before i have to watch thier mindless pleas for attention and future millions cuz they dnt know that idiots are not Heroes!!!

    1. Laura says:

      Wow! Who whooped in your oatmeal this morning?!

    2. JJ says:

      The title of the movie is going to be: “What were we thinking??”

      I still haven’t heard anyone asking them, or Sara that question. Matt Lauer needs to bring them on his show, sit them down, lean forward looking them directly in the eye and ask: “What were you guys thinking??” And don’t let them off the set without getting an actual answer. And then when they make their millions, the first check better be written to the US gov’t for all cost associated.

  5. Mbougie says:

    Here is a link to the Anti-American rag that these three village idiots insulted the United States, and the American people in. Iran should have kept this anti-American berkley trash!!

  6. yes sir says:

    They are spies. Only the US government and US government-controlled-media call them hikers. No hiker is going to messing around near the Iranian border…even really unintelligent hikers…

    1. EJ says:

      I can’t agree more. There is no doubt in my mind that all three of them ARE US spies. Now however there is a standard set as to how we deal with Iran’s spies when get them. Do we simply say “o.k. you can have them back for half a Million?”

  7. whirly says:

    More stupid f’n people using money to get out of their stupid mistakes and responsibilities. I’d love to know who put up the money. Of all places in the world to go “hiking” you choose the Iranian border? Let Darwinianism take it’s role and let them sit in jail. Maybe 8 years will be enough time to plan their next hiking trip to the North Korean-Chinese border.

    1. Steve "Wangsta" K says:

      Group Buys: I’m planning a “hiking” trip to the boarder of North/South’ish Korea next year. Anyone wants in? There’s a good chance will get lost and walk into North Korea, but it’s all worth it. I’ve heard there’s a good scenic hiking trail there.

  8. red says:

    Why is everyone so frick’in mean. I am glad for these peoples families that this ordeal is finally coming to an end. I don’t believe these 3 were spies. I figure everyone is just tired of hearing about this tragic situation

    1. Mr. Me says:

      why so frick’in mean? because they were so frick’in stupid!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Smoe says:

    I agree, should leave them there. The Iran Iraq border has been one the most dangerous regions for decades for the locals population; not to mention three beatnik, Honkey infidels. Lucky they didn’t have their heads chopped off.

    Thanks for being so “unique” and “extreme” in your misguided adventure you idiots. Sell your books and movie rights and pay back the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on freeing you dolts.

  10. Karl says:

    Losers both, plus clueless Sarah Shourd.

  11. joe says:

    We can all pray the plane crashes on the way back.

  12. kevin says:

    All three are stupid aholes or US spies. Either way they should never been over there.

  13. john says:

    Follow the money trail. You will then know who is repsonsible for them being there. If the the families paid the 1.5 mil for the three hikers well then they are just stuipid idiots. If the us paid it then they are us spies and got caught. I am guessing since nobody is saying who paid the bail oops i mean ransom. That will tell you why they were there. There has to something fishy about why you would go “hiking” there of all the places in the world youcan go why there?

  14. Guy says:

    Half a mil each for these idiots plus another half mil for Shourd. Total 1.5 million.

    Wonder how much MORE Iran would have charged to just KEEP them.

    (Hey it might have been WORTH it)

  15. cassie b says:

    Funny. As sick as most of you are to see the story in the news, and for all your negativity, you still clicked on the story to read it. Find something better to do with your time. I mean, if your so sick of hearing it and think they are so stupid, why do you keep coming here to talk about them? I am glad they have their freedom back. Ive followed this story from day one and I cant imagine what they went through. I am happy for them, but they have a long road a head of them because apparently coming home means they are just going to get hated on here.

  16. Bummer we have to have them back says:

    Way too bad they’re coming back here. Lucky for them I’m not in charge. I would have sent the ignorant woman back too so the three of them could have rotted together.

    I hope somebody finds out where the bail money came from and tells us it wasn’t the US taxpayers. That would really chap my cheeks. Wherever it came from I hope these three twits have to pay it back.

  17. Scott says:

    They should go to jail here for going to a country that we are at war with, And pay all the ransom money back. I tought The USA didn’t Pay ramsoms

  18. Darwin says:

    I am very happy for the families of these complete morons.

  19. deathwatch says:

    They won’t last long here. Better hide them quick.

  20. L says:

    I am thrilled for Shane, Josh, Sarah, and their family and friends. The “haters” here will not rain on this day! This day is for celebrating an appropriate release of people detained with no evidence.

    Thankfully Shane, Sarah, and Josh…and most of the world aren’t as small minded as the negative people here! They will flourish and make the world a BETTER place despite some small mindedness.

  21. Right on Doogie says:

    Small minded? I’d say those three idiots were the small minded ones. If they had a half ounce of brains among them, they wouldn’t have been “spying” over there in the first place.

    Now that they’re all going to be back in society, I think the US ought to lock them up for 20 years for stupidity!

  22. Nancy Jane says:

    Shut up for God’s sake! They are our boys and they are freedom. Let me sing about freedom! Freedom! It’s apple pie and mamma’s kisses. It’s a walk down a leaf strewn street on an Autumn afternoon. It’s breathing free air again. it’s coming home to all who love you. Let me sing about love, because it rings with freedom.

  23. s says:

    No good American Boy Or Girl I know would ever think Hiking in Iraq/Iran. They had a plan or spying. We paid a Ransom(bail) to get them back,Thats wrong. If they make any money for book or Movie it should go to pay the ransom back.

  24. albert says:

    Yes, they were dumb. Yes, they thought hiking in the Kurdish region was safe. Yes, they were wrong. Yes, it is nice that the anguish of the families is over. No, I don’t care about the anguish of the idiots. Yes, they will get a fat book deal, unfortunately.

    At least arabs paid to get them out.

  25. Tired of looking at them says:

    Don’t let them breed

  26. kevin says:

    All three need a good a$$ woopen

  27. Late Hotel Deals says:

    You couldnt be more right on!

  28. work says:

    What a really great piece!!

  29. hostgator says:

    Great writing!!!

  30. human flea says:

    I dont disagree with you..

  31. Designer Bags Sale says:

    I could not think you are more right.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

More From WCCO | CBS Minnesota

Good Question
Best Of Minnesota

Watch & Listen LIVE