Imprisoned U.S. Hikers Hit Home

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Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal arrived in New York City at Kennedy Airport to a number of supporters and loved ones around 11a.m. The two were held for more than two years in an Iranian prison on accusations of spying, which ended a diplomatic ordeal that began with what they called a wrong turn into the wrong country.

They were held along with fellow hiker, Sarah Shourd in July of 2009 along the Iran-Iraqi border. They say they were only hiking in Iraq’s relatively peaceful Kurdish region and may have unintentionally ended up inside of Iran. A furious and lengthy diplomatic effort eventually led to the release of Shourd about a year ago, while 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, but 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. Iranian defense attorney Masoud Shafiei secured the necessary judicial approval Wednesday for the bail — $500,000 for each man.

The two were released from prison last week and arrived Wednesday in Oman under a $1 million bail deal. Before boarding the plane in the Omani capital of Muscat on Saturday night, the men made brief statements and thanked Oman’s ruler for helping secure their release. Hours later, the gates of Tehran’s Evin prison opened and the Americans headed to Tehran’s Mehrabad airport. Iran’s Foreign Ministry called their release a gesture of Islamic mercy.

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

Until their release, the last 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, Sarah Shourd has lived in Oakland, Calif. Bauer proposed marriage to Shourd while they were in jail last year.

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