Iran accuses 3 Americans of entering the country illegally

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 4, 2009 

BAGHDAD — The Iranian government confirmed Tuesday that it's arrested three American travelers who crossed the border from Iraq last week and has accused them of illegal entry.

The University of California, Berkeley, identified the detained Americans as Shane Bauer, 27, of Minnesota, Sarah Emily Shourd, 30, of California, and Joshua Felix Fattal, 27 of Pennsylvania.

Iranian news accounts didn't identify them by name. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad hasn't confirmed their detention but is working with the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which looks after American interests in Iran, to obtain information about them.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday had urged Tehran to provide information quickly about the missing Americans.

Iraj Hassanzadeh, an Iranian official dealing with political and security affairs, said the travelers had visas to enter Iraq and Syria, Iran's Fars News Agency reported.

"They are under custody right now," Fars quoted Hassanzadeh as saying.

Officials in Iraqi Kurdistan have said that the Americans were hiking on their own Friday when they crossed into Iran by accident. The Iranian government appeared skeptical about that claim.

"Anyone willing to cross Kurdistan borders (to enter Iran) illegally will be arrested," Hassanzadeh told the news agency.

A fourth traveler in the group, Shon Meckfessel, 36, a graduate student at the University of Washington, was expected to join them on the hike in northern Iraq but declined because he felt ill, according to Kurdish officials. He was sent to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad after his friends were detained.

Bauer, a freelance journalist, is fluent in Arabic and has written stories on Iraq for San-Francisco-based New America Media and The Nation magazine. He was staying in the region to report on the elections July 25 in Iraq's Kurdish provinces.

"Shane's dispatches have been very enlightening," said Sandy Close, the executive director of New America Media. "His fluency in Arabic and his writing and photography skills enabled him to provide a valuable lens into what ordinary people are thinking and saying in the Arab world."

Shourd, a Californian from the Bay Area, has been published by Brave New Traveler. She identifies herself as a teacher-activist-writer in a brief biography on the publication's Web site. UC Berkeley identified Shourd as an aspiring journalist who earned a degree in English in 2003.

Fattal earned a bachelor's degree in environmental economics and policy from UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources. Friends speaking with Oregon television stations called him "fiercely intellectual" and said he loved to travel.

(Ashton reports for The Modesto (Calif.) Bee.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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