Freed by Iran, hikers arrive back in US

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

September 25, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — Two Americans released from an Iranian prison arrived back in the United States on Sunday after being held in jail for more than two years as accused spies.

A spokeswoman for the families said Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were to return from the Middle East Sunday on a flight from London's Heathrow Airport.

The American Airlines flight arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport at approximately 11:00 a.m. ET.

"It's actually just a great relief. We've all been sort of on pins and needles," said Fattal's uncle, Fred Fellelman, in an interview with CBS Radio News. "This last week has been somewhat hellish - the on-again, off-again process."

"We just would like Josh and Shane to start the process of reincorporating back into society," he added.

Bauer was accompanied on the flight by his mother and father, Cindy Hickey and Al Bauer, and his fiancée Sarah Shourd, a fellow hiker who was detained by Iran but freed last year.

Fattal was accompanied by his mother and father, Laura and Jacob Fattal, and his brother, Alex.

Fatal and Bauer were released last week. They arrived Wednesday in Oman under a $1 million bail deal and were embraced by relatives. Also on hand was Sarah Shourd, their fellow hiker who was freed by Iran last year.

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The three were detained in July 2009 along the Iran-Iraq border. They say they were only hiking in Iraq's relatively peaceful Kurdish region.

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 defense 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, a Philadelphia suburb.

Bauer proposed marriage to Shourd while they were in jail.

(Copyright 2011, The Associated Press)

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