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Iran official: Hikers 'definitely' spies

BAGHDAD, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- A top Iranian official said Tuesday three U.S. hikers being held in Iran's Kurdistan region on charges of illegally entering the country are "definitely" spies.

The semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Iraj Hassanzadeh, a deputy governor in Iran's western Kurdistan region, saying the three Americans were in custody, CNN reported. Hassanzadeh reportedly said the three were being held in the western Iranian city of Marivan.

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"We can definitely say that they have come as spies," Mohammed Karim Abedi, who sits on the Iranian parliament's National Security Committee, said on Iran's state-run TV channel, the Los Angeles Times reported.

U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood rejected the accusation the hikers are spies, the newspaper said.

Officials of the autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan identified the detainees as former University of California-Berkeley students Shane Bauer, 27, his girlfriend, Sarah Shourd, 30, and Joshua Fattal, 27. A fourth member of their party, Shon Meckfessel, had stayed behind in Sulaimaniya the day his companions were arrested, CNN said.

The New York Times reported Swiss diplomats representing American interests in Tehran had been seeking to confirm the detentions with the Iranian Foreign Ministry. They have also requested consular access to the detainees, Lars Knuchel, the head of public information for the Foreign Ministry in Bern, Switzerland, told the newspaper.

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Bauer is an aspiring journalist who contributes to the Web site New America Media, Sandy Close of the site's parent Pacific News Service told The New York Times.

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