Two U.S. citizens who inadvertently crossed the border into Iran while hiking with a third person in Iraq's Kurdistani mountains have finally reached the end of a two-year ordeal trapped in an Iranian nightmare.
Josh Fattal, an environmentalist, and Shane Bauer, a freelance journalist, were picked up more than two years ago by Iranian security forces, and accused by Iran of being spies. Both were imprisoned together with fellow hiker Sarah Shourd, in July 2009. Shourd was released a year later after heavy diplomatic maneuvering by the United States.
More negotiations with the Iranian government finally paid off this week with the release of Fattal and Bauer on "bail" for one million dollars – $500,000 apiece. Last month, each was convicted on charges of illegal entry into the country, and espionage. They were both sentenced to eight years in prison.
Their release is being called “a gesture of Islamic mercy” by the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Last week Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had told U.S. media that the two could be released "within days" but the time frame was not clear due to what appeared to be an internal struggle between government elements.
The two hikers arrived Wednesday in Oman -- which offered to pay the bail -- and where they were met by their families. They stayed in the capital of Muscat until Saturday night.
After thanking 40-year Omani ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said for helping to secure their freedom, on Saturday night the two boarded a plane for home, together with family members, each bearing huge bouquets of flowers. Bauer and Shourd plan to marry – Bauer having proposed while they were trapped in the Iranian jail.