Authorities in Iran abruptly delayed the release of an American woman the country has kept in captivity for more than a year, one day after promising to let her go in a palace ceremony on Saturday.
The semi-official Iranian news agency ILNA quoted the deputy chief of communication for the Iranian president's office, Mohammed Hassan Salilhimaram, as saying Sarah Shourd's release scheduled would be put off. He gave no further details.
Reuters news agency said Shourd's release was postponed due to unfinished legal procedures.
The announcement was a disappointment to Shourd's family, particularly because only hours earlier, Iran announced that Shourd's released had been moved from a hotel to a presidential palace in the capital of Tehran and state media reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had personally intervened to secure Shourd's release in part because of the "special viewpoint of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the dignity of women."
State Department spokeswoman Julie Reside said the U.S. was never able to confirm Shourd's release was certain.
"We have never had confirmation that Iran was intending to release her. We've seen press reports, we were pleased to hear that she would be released. We would be please if she were released. Needless to say we're still remain concerned about all Americans who are held unjustly, including those held in Iran," Reside said.
Iranian experts see in the delay signs of a political split in Tehran's leadership.
ILNA, the news agency that reported the delay, is the news outlet most critical of Ahmedinejad and his political opponents didn't seem to like the president's apparent attempt to turn Shourd's release into a public relations boost for himself before next week's U.N. General Assembly.
"Sarah has become victim of political bickering in the country. This shows how deep rifts within conservative establishment," Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran told ABC News.
The reversal came one day after an official in Iran's ministry of culture announced Thursday in a text message that one of the hikers would be released Saturday on the final day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. ABC News later confirmed that Shourd, who has been suffering from a serious gynecological condition and had discovered a possibly cancerous lump in her breast, was the one to be released. Saturday is also the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
When news of the release broke Thursday, the hikers' mothers were cautiously jubilant and released a statement on Facebook.
"We have seen the news reports and are urgently seeking further information," the statement said. "We hope and pray that the reports are true and that this signals the end of all three of our children's long and difficult detention. Shane, Sarah and Josh are all innocent and we continue to call for their immediate release, so that they can return home together and be reunited with our families."
Just minutes later, the administrator of the Facebook account, a "friend or family" of the hikers, commented on the post and said, "I AM PRAYING!!!! GOD - THANK YOU!!!"
Shourd spent most of her 14 month captivity in solitary confinement and was also reportedly depressed.
A lawyer for the hikers, Masoud Shafie, told ABC News Thursday he "warned" Iranian officials about Shourd's condition.