IRAQ: Three American hikers held in Iran made a 'mistake'
An account posted on the website of Mother Jones aims to shed light on the questions of how and why three American hikers in Iraq's Kurdistan region ended up straying across the border into Iran, where they have been in detention for the last week.
Written by Shon Meckfessel, the fourth member of the group who stayed behind at their hotel because he had a cold, it says the trio had no idea the beauty spot they were visiting was close to the border.
The three, Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal, certainly did not intend to wander into Iran, and are guilty of nothing more than "a simple and very regrettable mistake," he writes.
"While going there might seem strange to Americans, the Kurdish territory is actually very beautiful and quite safe. Since the Kurds gained their autonomy there in 1992, no American has ever been harmed there," he writes.
Many Kurds in the town of Sulaymaniya recommended that they visit a waterfall at Ahmed Awa, without mentioning that there was a risk of crossing into Iran, Meckfessel says. But he acknowledges that those Kurds may not have been aware the group planned to hike through the area, and not simply visit the waterfall.
Meckfessel raised the alarm after Bauer called him from his cellphone July 31 to say they had been surrounded by armed men and were being taken into custody.
This week, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman said Iran is still trying to figure out how the three came to be in Iran, and why.
"The news is so contradictory that we, just like you, don't know what the truth is," the spokesman, Hasan Qashqavi, said on state-run radio.
But many Iranians are likely to be highly suspicious about the appearance on Iranian soil of three Americans, at a time when the government is accusing Western countries of fomenting the protests against June's disputed presidential election results.
Writing in Iran's Javan newspaper Tuesday, commentator Mehdi Shakibi asked whether the trio might not have been dispatched "to work directly against the national security of the Islamic Republic regime."
"Are the arrested American subjects terrorists who have entered Iran illegally under the mask of tourists in an attempt to gather information and commit acts against our security?" he asked.
-- Liz Sly in Baghdad
Photo: Undated image of Shane Bauer. Bauer, a freelance journalist and his girlfriend Sarah Shourd, and a third companion, Joshua Fattal apparently illegally crossed the border from Iraq into Iran and are being held by authorities in Iran. Credit: AP