Hikers were warned to avoid Iranian border

Aug. 2, 2009 at 8:09 AM
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SULAIMANIYA, Iraq, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- Three U.S. hikers arrested for straying into Iran were warned to stay away from the Ahmed Awa region on the Iraq-Iran border, a hotel owner said.

"I told them, 'Don't go there because it is unsafe for you because you're American and Ahmed Awa is very close to the Iranian border,'" said Mudhafer Mohammed, owner of the Nirwan Hotel in Sulaimaniya in Iraq's Kurdistan region.

Joshua Fattal and two friends were arrested Friday by Iranian soldiers. A fourth hiker, Shon Meckfessel, stayed behind at the hotel because he felt sick, Mohammed told CNN.

U.S. State Department officials were working through Swiss diplomats to gain more information about the three hikers. Two of them were reportedly students studying in Syria, CNN reported.

The four arrived in Sulaimaniya Thursday, with three of them taking a taxi to Ahmed Awa to hike in the mountains early Friday, Peshrow Ahmed, a security official in Sulaimaniya said.

Friday afternoon, the three called their friend at the hotel, saying they were surrounded by Iranian soldiers.

U.S. embassy officials in Iraq picked up the fourth person at the hotel and took him out of Sulaimaniya, CNN reported.

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