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Hikers held in Iran for 2 years overjoyed to be free

  |   Sept. 21, 2011 at 10:04 PM
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MUSCAT, Oman, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- One of two U.S. hikers freed by Iran Wednesday told reporters he and his fellow captive were "so happy ... and so relieved" to be free.

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who were held for more than two years by Tehran for straying across the Iraqi border while hiking and accused of espionage, were released into the custody of Swiss and Omani officials after $500,000 bail was posted for each. The two were then flown to Oman and reunited with their families.

"We're so happy we are free and so relieved we are free," Fattal told reporters after he and Bauer bounded down the plane's steps. "Our deepest gratitude goes toward his majesty Sultan Qaboos of Oman for obtaining our release. We're sincerely grateful for the government of Oman for hosting us and our families."

Bauer described their imprisonment as "too long" and said he hoped other political prisoners also would be freed "in America and Iran."

Their families issued a statement expressing their feelings: "Today can only be described as the best day of our lives. We have waited for nearly 26 months for this moment and the joy and relief we feel at Shane and Josh's long-awaited freedom knows no bounds."

The release came one day before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was to address the U.N. General Assembly.

Family members held on closely to the men as they made their way across the tarmac to the terminal, CNN reported.

The two were sentenced to eight years in prison after being convicted in August of entering Iran illegally and spying for the United States.

The White House released a statement from President Barack Obama after the release.

"I welcome the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal from detention in Iran and am very pleased that they are being reunited with their loved ones," Obama said. "The tireless advocacy of their families over these two years has won my admiration, and is now coming to an end with Josh and Shane back in their arms. All Americans join their families and friends in celebrating their long-awaited return home.

"We are deeply grateful to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the Swiss government and to all our partners and allies around the world who have worked steadfastly over the past two years to secure the release of Shane and Josh."

CNN and other news outlets reported the pair were freed shortly after their attorney, Masoud Shafii, was seen entering the correctional facility with Swiss and Omani officials. Because the United States has no diplomatic ties with Iran, Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran. Omani officials helped negotiate the hikers' release.

Bauer and Fattal left the prison in official Omani vehicles, which were escorted to the airport by police, CNN reported.

On its Web site, Iran's state-run Press TV said Tehran's appeals court "agreed to commute the detention sentences of the two U.S. nationals [Bauer and Fattal] to release on a bail of $500,000, a statement released by Iran's Judiciary said on Wednesday."

Bauer and Fattal were arrested in July 2009. They, along with hiker Sarah Shourd, maintain they inadvertently crossed an unmarked border into Iran while hiking in northern Iraq.

Shourd was released last year on $500,000 bond on humanitarian grounds for a medical condition, although officials said her case was open.

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