Diplomats pressing Iran for word on 3 Americans

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Associated Press
August 4, 2009
— Family members of the three Americans being held in Iran after they apparently illegally crossed the border from Iraq said they are concerned for the safety of the group.

Friends and family say freelance journalist Shane Bauer, his girlfriend, Sarah Shourd, and a third companion, Joshua Fattal, were adventuresome travelers who accidentally stumbled into the wrong place at the wrong time on Friday.

“All we care about is the well-being of Josh and his two hiker friends,” Fattal’s father, Jacob, told reporters on Monday.

The status of three had been unknown early Tuesday, despite efforts by Swiss diplomats to obtain details from the Iranian Foreign Minister.

The Arabic language Al-Alam, however, quoted the deputy governor of Iran’s Kurdistan province later Tuesday as saying the American hikers were being held on the outskirts of Marivan district while an investigation was conducted. Iraj Hassanzadeh said the hikers were not being interrogated.

Bauer’s mother, Cindy Hickey of Pine City, Minn., and Shourd’s mother, Nora Shourd, on Monday said they hoped the three would be allowed to safely leave Iran. Also Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appealed to Iran for information.

Pacific News Service Executive Director Sandy Close, who hired Bauer to cover the elections in northern Iraq’s self-ruled Kurdish region, said she does not believe the freelance journalist ever intended to go to neighboring Iran.

In an e-mail, Bauer told Close he wanted to “feel out the situation (in Kurdistan) and get some ideas for deeper stories.”

“Kurdistan is the big story in Iraq now,” Bauer wrote in the e-mail provided to The Associated Press. “I’m off to Kurdistan ... “

Close said Bauer sent her e-mails on Monday and Wednesday, then went backpacking with Shourd in a popular tourist area renowned for its scenery. It was unclear how the two met up with Fattal. Close said Bauer wouldn’t have deliberately tried to enter Iran.

A Kurdish official in Iraq has said the three contacted a colleague to say they had entered Iran by mistake on Friday and were surrounded by troops. Iran’s state television later said the Americans were arrested after they did not heed warnings from Iranian border guards.

Bauer and Shourd, both graduates of the University of California, Berkeley, had been living in the San Francisco Bay area. Shourd has written for a number of online publications, including Brave New Traveler. She has also has taught English.

Ross Borden, founder of an online travel magazine that includes Brave New Traveler, described Shourd as “very professional. She wrote a great story for us.”

“She’s obviously a professional traveler, as you can see by her latest adventure, going hiking in Iraq,” he said. “Not many people go hiking in Iraq.”

Fattal spent three years recently living with a group dedicated to sustainable farming near Cottage Grove, Ore. He lived with about nine others and worked as the group’s intern coordinator before leaving about eight months ago, according to Jason Brown, who now holds Fattal’s job.

From January to June, Fattal traveled overseas as a teaching assistant with the International Honors Program, visiting Switzerland, India, South Africa and China on a global ecology program. Fattal had been a student in the program during college, president Joan Tiffany said.

Also contributing to this story were Patrick Condon in Minneapolis and Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia. Michelle Locke reported from Berkeley, Calif.

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