Reporting Jim Melwert
TEHRAN, Iran (CBS/AP) — Two Americans jailed in Iran as spies were released from Tehran’s prison on Wednesday after more than two years in custody. They were reunited with their family in Oman just hours after their release.
Reporters saw a convoy of vehicles with Swiss and Omani diplomats leaving Evin prison Wednesday afternoon (Iran time) with Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal inside, heading to an airport in the capital Tehran. Switzerland represents American interests in Iran because the US has no diplomatic relations with Tehran and the pair were then flown to Oman now.
The two men, both 29, were driven out of the prison compound just minutes after their Iranian attorney, Masoud Shafiei, said he has completed the paperwork for their release.
“I have finished the job that I had to do as their lawyer,” Shafiei said. He obtained signatures of two judges on a bail-for-freedom deal. A $1 million bail — $500,000 for each one— was posted.
Their plane landed at an airport in Oman at about 3:30 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday. Cameras rolled capturing the moment as they ran down the steps onto the tarmac and embraced their loved ones — including Sara Shourd. Shourd was the third American arrested with them. She was freed last year on bail.
The trio were arrested along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009. Bauer and Fattal were sentenced last month to eight years each in prison.
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The families of Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal, and Sarah Shourd released the following statement today following news of their release:
“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. We now all want nothing more than to wrap Shane and Josh in our arms, catch up on two lost years and make a new beginning, for them and for all of us. For now, we especially would like to thank His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman and his envoy Dr. Salem Al Ismaily; our lawyer, Mr. Masoud Shafii; and the Swiss Ambassador to Iran, Livia Leu Agosti, and her colleagues, for working to make today a reality. At the same time, our deep gratitude extends to many, many others, from governments, institutions and noted campaigners to tens of thousands of people around the world. Their support for Shane, Josh, Sarah and our families has sustained us and comforted us throughout this time. Our appreciation for the warmth and love of our fellow human beings is unending and we know that Shane and Josh will always be grateful.”
The London-based rights group Amnesty International called the release of the Americans a “long overdue step.”
“Iranian authorities have finally seen sense” and have agreed to release Bauer and Fattal, said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International deputy director for Middle East and North Africa. “They must now be allowed to leave Iran promptly to be reunited with their families.”
The three Americans—friends from their days at the University of California at Berkeley—have maintained their innocence and denied the espionage charges against them.
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Their families and the US government said they were just hiking in northern Iraq’s scenic and relatively peaceful Kurdish region when they may have accidentally strayed over the unmarked border with Iran.
The last direct contact family members had with Bauer and Fattal was in May 2010 when their mothers were permitted a short visit in Tehran.
It was not clear where the two men will be reunited with their families after their release.
Phone messages left for Fattal’s mother and brother in Philadelphia were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Since her release last year, Shourd has lived in Oakland, Calif. Bauer, a freelance journalist, grew up in Onamia, Minn., and Fattal, an environmental activist, is from suburban Philadelphia.
Bauer proposed marriage to Shourd while in prison.
(Copyright 2011 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.)