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Religious leaders seek hikers' release from Iran

Jailed American Josh Fattal gets a kiss from his mother Laura Fattal during a reunion at a hotel in northern Tehran, Iran on May 20, 2010. The mothers of the three jailed Americans arrived on Wednesday in Tehran and was received by the ambassador of the Swiss embassy,which represents the interests of the U.S. with Iran. UPI/Maryam Rahmanian
Jailed American Josh Fattal gets a kiss from his mother Laura Fattal during a reunion at a hotel in northern Tehran, Iran on May 20, 2010. The mothers of the three jailed Americans arrived on Wednesday in Tehran and was received by the ambassador of the Swiss embassy,which represents the interests of the U.S. with Iran. UPI/Maryam Rahmanian | License Photo

TEHRAN, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Muslim and Christian leaders returned to the United States Monday after visiting Iran to seek the release of two U.S. hikers convicted of being spies.

The group met with religious scholars and leaders in Qom and with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during its six-day visit to discuss the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, jailed in Tehran's Evin prison since they were arrested in July 2009 and accused of spying and illegally entering the country, CNN reported.

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"We can only hope the two men are freed soon on humanitarian grounds and that our visit fosters a better dialogue between Iranian and American leaders of faith," said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Awad was part of the group that went to Tehran.

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Bauer and Fattal, 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.

"Our goal has been to foster interfaith ties, build a system of understanding and ask the Iranian leadership to show compassion and mercy for the American hikers by allowing them to come home," Awad said.

Bauer and Fattal, both 29, were tried and sentenced in August to eight years each for illegal entry into Iran and five years on espionage charges.

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Late last week Ahmadinejad said in interviews with several U.S. media outlets the men's release would happen soon. However, judiciary officials denied the president's statement, saying a judge was reviewing the cases and considering release. At one point, the men's attorney said they would be released once they had each raised $500,000 in bail.

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