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Families Of US Hikers Held In Iran To Release Video

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BERKELEY, Calif. — The families of three Americans being held in Iran plan to release video footage that they say proves the three were simply on vacation and had no underhand intentions when they strayed across the border.

Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27, have been detained since July 31. They apparently crossed into Iran by accident while hiking in a scenic area in northern Iraq. They have been visited by Swiss diplomats, who oversee U.S. interests in Iran, but have had no contact with their families.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said last week that investigators are still questioning the three and that their fate rests with judicial authorities.

Mottaki gave no other details on the case. But his comments suggested that formal charges could still be possible against the Americans, although Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview with The Associated Press last month that he could ask the judiciary to "take a look at the case with maximum leniency."

One of the videos, set for release on YouTube Tuesday, shows Fattal performing an impromptu rap song – "Yo, it's hot/It's 'cos I'm in Iraq." – against a backdrop of the city of Irbil in Iraq. A second video shows Fattal, Bauer and Shourd dancing in an unfinished cinder block building.

"These kids were on vacation. They were just traveling; they were having a good time," Nora Shourd, Shourd's mother, said in a phone interview Monday.

"It's obvious they're on vacation. This makes it real clear that they were there having fun," said Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey, who lives in eastern Minnesota. "This is a carefree attitude and not an attitude of someone that was meaning to do harm."

Laura Fattal said the videos showed her son looking well and fit – "on top of his game."

But it was hearing his voice that really affected her.

"It took me aback," Fattal said. "I said, 'That's really Josh. And I really haven't heard from him.' When you hear a voice, that pulls at your heart strings."

As for his rapping ability, Fattal said, "Of course I think he's adorable."

More importantly, she said, the two videos show "the harmless nature of all three of them."

Fattal, who lives in the Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park, said she and the other two mothers traveled to the United Nations Iranian mission in New York on Oct. 15 to deliver a petition signed by more than 2,500 people asking that the hikers be released.

Iranian authorities have had nearly three months to question the hikers, Fattal said, and "I can't imagine what else they're expecting to hear."

The videos were made two days before the hikers were detained. They were shot by Shon Meckfessel, a fourth American on the trip who did not go hiking with the others because he was feeling ill.

Shourd, Bauer and Fattal are friends who all graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. Bauer had been living in Damascus, Syria, with Shourd, his girlfriend. Fattal went to visit them after traveling overseas on a teaching fellowship with the International Honors Program.

Watching the videos has been bittersweet, Hickey said. "It was kind of fun to see that they were having fun and they were being kids. "But it also made me really wonder why they're still being held. It made me miss Shane even more."

Nora Shourd, who lives in Oakland, said she's watched the videos "50 times already."

"It's wonderful to see them. It's wonderful to see Sarah dancing and they're really having a good time," she said. "But then I feel the opposite, which is – Why in the world are they sitting in a jail in Iran?"

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Associated Press Writer Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia contributed to this story.

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Family Web site, including link to videos: http://freethehikers.org/