Iranian authorities have confirmed that they are holding three Americans–Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal–who were detained last Friday on the Iranian-Kurdish border, where they were apparently hiking for fun. They are all graduates of the University of California at Berkeley and range in age from 27 to 30. The obvious question to ask is what the heck were they thinking taking a stroll along the Iranian border?
It turns out that there was a fourth member of their party, Shon Meckfessel, who stayed back from the hike. He has issued a statement explaining the Kurdish vacation-gone-wrong that led to the arrest of his friends. An excerpt follows below.
We arrived in Sulaimania the night of July 29th and stayed at the Hotel Miwan. Walking around town the next day, we asked a number of people–taxi drivers, hotel staff, and people on the street–for good places to experience the mountainous terrain in the area. Every one of them told us to visit a place called Ahmed Awa. Not one of these people mentioned that Ahmed Awa was anywhere near the Iranian border. In fact, on the wall of our hotel there were three photos of tourists standing near the Ahmed Awa waterfall.
Ahmed Awa seemed the clear choice for appreciating the stunning natural beauty around Sulaimania, far from any sort of risk. However, it may have been unclear to the people who encouraged us to visit Ahmed Awa that we intended to go hiking in the area, rather than simply visiting the waterfall.
There is no Lonely Planet Iraqi Kurdistan, and Ahmed Awa was not on the map we’d printed out. My sense–wrongly as it turns out–was that Ahmed Awa lay northwest of Sulaimania, in the direction of Dokan Lake (and Dokan Resort), another scenic area we’d considered visiting during our trip through Kurdistan.
At least one Iranian lawmaker, Mohammad Karim Abedi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s National Security Committee, has said publicly that he believes the Americans were spies. “Surely we can say that they came as spies,” he said on state-run Arabic television according to the Associated Press. The State Department is working through channels on securing their release.