This past week the two male American hikers, who had been detained in Iran for just over two years were freed from their Tehran prison and flown to Oman. Now, several days later, Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer, are back in the US, where they have been united with friends and family, as well as their female companion, Sarah Shourd, who was detained for just over a year in Iran. Not only does the release close an imprisonment case that should never have occurred in the first place, but it also allows Shane and Sharon to fulfill the wedding vows, which they exchanged in prison. The Iranians claim the trio were spying for the U.S., but the freed hikers have made the claim that they were held against their will because they were American.
How It Happened
The whole episode occurred on a visit the trio was making to the Kurdish region of Iraq, a region that is considered relatively safe for Americans and western visitors. This region has attracted nearly 500,ooo tourists since 1998. Their first stop on the tour was the city of Sulaymaniyah, where they stayed in a tourist hotel. At the hotel, the American travelers inquired about a place to go hiking. They were referred to a popular waterfall called, Ahmed Awa. Here they intermingled with hundreds of local visitors, who were enjoying not only the natural marvel, but the many food and craft vendors that were present at the falls.
The trouble occurred the next day went they small group went hiking in the nearby, local mountains and followed a trail that lead them very close to the Iran border. It is here where they encountered an Iranian guard and were taken prisoner. The story can be viewed on Vimeo on a short film made by Sharon Shourd upon her return to the US after a year of imprisonment.
The release is good news. The hikers are home, plus a diplomatic channel to Iran has been opened through the nation of Oman. Unfortunately, a wider view of events yields a more disturbing picture. Were the trio lured into Iranian territory by an over-zealous, armed Iranian, border guard? Even if they weren’t, the whole episode signals a warning that even safe areas may yield hidden dangers for Americans and other western travelers.