Iran Claims U.S. Hikers Are Spies

Swiss seek info on fate of trio who strayed across border

By Greg Wilson
|  Monday, Aug 3, 2009  |  Updated 5:24 PM EDT
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Joshua Fattal, above, along with friends Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd, is reportedly one of three American backpackers who were captured last week after they crossed the border from Iraq into Iran.

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Iran is claiming that three American backpackers who were captured last week after they crossed the border from Iraq are CIA agents.

Tehran-based television news channel al-Alam quoted an Iraqi police officer as saying the trio were “working with the CIA.” NBC News reported that the Swiss Embassy in Tehran was working to learn more about the Americans' fate through its contacts with the Iranian Foreign Ministry. The U.S. has not had diplomatic ties with Iran since the 1979 hostage crisis and revolution.

On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said called on Iran to "return them as quickly as possible."

The three, identified in various reports as Joshua Fattal, pictured above, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd, are believed to have strayed into Iran by accident while on a hiking trip. A fourth pal, Shon Meckfessel, begged out of the trip because he had a cold and stayed at their hotel.
The group had traveled from Turkey into northern Iraq and were staying in Sulaimaniyah, according to the Kurdish regional government.

The area where the three were hiking when they were grabbed is a popular hiking destination known for a waterfall and thick growth of fruit and nut trees. Camping equipment and two backpacks were found in the area, a Kurdish security official told NBC.

Shortly before their capture, the three contacted Meckfessel to say they had entered Iran by mistake and were surrounded by troops, the official said. Iran's state TV said the Americans were arrested after they did not heed warnings from Iranian border guards. It cited a "well-informed source" in the Interior Ministry.

Al-Alam quoted Colonel Anwar Haj Omar of the Halabja police force in northern Iraq as saying the three Americans were “agents” employed by the CIA.

Fattal's mother, Laura Fattal, issued a statement Sunday.

"My husband and I are only concerned about Josh" and the two others, she said.

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