US Hikers Freed by Iran Arrive in Oman

Posted September 21st, 2011 at 4:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Two American hikers who had been jailed in Iran since 2009 have arrived in Oman and were greeted by their families in a joyful reunion.

A plane carrying Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal arrived in the Omani capital, Muscat, late Wednesday. It is the first leg of their journey back to the United States.

CNN television quoted Omani officials as saying the two men likely will stay in the country one or two days before departing for the U.S.

In Washington, President Barack Obama welcomed Bauer and Fattal's release, saying the “tireless advocacy” of their families has won his admiration. Mr. Obama expressed gratitude to allies around the world who worked to free the men, including the Omani sultan , Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the Swiss government.

Earlier Wednesday, Bauer and Fattal were handed over to an Omani delegation after a judge approved an order for their release on a combined bail of $1 million.

Iranian authorities detained Bauer, Fattal and a third American, Sarah Shourd, on spying charges in 2009. Tehran said they illegally crossed into the country from Iraq. Iran freed Shourd last year on $500,000 bail and she returned to the United States.

The families of all three hikers issued a statement saying their relief over Fattal and Bauer's freedom “knows no bounds.” They also say they want to embrace the two men and “catch up on two lost years.”

In August, an Iranian court sentenced Bauer and Fattal to eight years in prison on spying convictions.

All three Americans maintained their innocence and said they were hiking in the mountains of northern Iraq while on vacation. They said that if they crossed the unmarked border into Iran, it was by mistake.

The release of the two men came a day before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Analysts say Mr. Ahmadinejad may have been hoping to use the release to gain some international approval. Iranian media say he will focus on a theme of global management in his annual speech before the world body.