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Missing Americans Hiked Into Iran By Mistake, Say Families

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PHILADELPHIA — Three American hikers detained in Iran for nearly two weeks entered the country by mistake and their families are hoping for a quick resolution that will reunite them with their children, the families said in a statement Tuesday.

Joshua Fattal, freelance journalist Shane Bauer and Bauer's girlfriend, Sarah Shourd, were hiking near a waterfall on a mountain in Iraq's self-ruled Kurdish region on July 31 when they accidentally crossed the border into Iran, according to family members.

They contacted a colleague to say they had entered Iran by mistake and were surrounded by troops, according to a Kurdish official in Iraq. Iran's state television said the Americans were arrested after they did not heed warnings from Iranian border guards.

"Shane, Sarah and Josh are young travelers who share a great love of the world and a deep respect for different cultures, societies and religions," the families said in a statement to The Associated Press. "We believe that when the Iranian authorities speak to our children, they will realize that Shane, Sarah and Josh had no intention of entering Iran and will allow them to leave the country and reunite with their families. We continue to hope that this misunderstanding will be resolved as quickly as possible."

The families said they would not comment beyond the statement.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the detained Americans "should be returned to their families as soon as possible" and that diplomats should be given access to them.

All three hikers are graduates of the University of California, Berkeley.

Bauer, 27, and Shourd, 31, previously lived in the San Francisco Bay area.

Bauer has been living in Damascus, Syria, since the fall and is studying Arabic, the families said. A freelance journalist, he had been hired by the Pacific News Service to cover the elections in northern Iraq's self-ruled Kurdish region.

Shourd has written for a number of online publications, including Brave New Traveler. She also was living in Damascus, where she was teaching English and preparing for graduate school, the families said.

Fattal, whose parents live in the Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park, spent three years recently with a group dedicated to sustainable farming near Cottage Grove, Ore. He lived with about nine others and worked as the group's intern coordinator before leaving about eight months ago.

Fattal, 27, traveled overseas as a teaching assistant with the International Honors Program from January to June. He had been a student in the program during college.

He had been visiting Bauer and Shourd in Damascus just before the hiking trip, the families said.

Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey, of Pine City, Minn., and Shourd's mother, Nora Shourd, of Oakland, Calif., said last week that they hoped the three would be allowed to safely leave Iran. Fattal's father, Jacob, who runs a tech magazine outside Philadelphia, echoed those sentiments.

A fourth person, Shon Meckfessel, was supposed to have gone on the hike but did not because he felt sick.


Associated Press writer Barry Schweid in Washington contributed to this story.

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