Mothers of U.S. Hikers Held in Iran Plead for Release

Three Americans have been in custody since crossing the Iranian border.

Sept. 17, 2009— -- The mothers of three U.S. hikers held in Iran without charges for nearly two months have written a letter to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, asking him to bring their children with him when the United Nations General Assembly convenes in New York City this month.

Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Laura Fattal were captured by Iranian authorities July 31, accused of illegally crossing the border while on a hiking trip in the picturesque mountains in Iraq.

"We respectfully ask with humility to bring our children back. We miss them," Bauer's mother, Cindy Hickey, told "Good Morning America" today. "We know he's a father, too, so he can understand the absence and the hole this has left in our heart."

In the letter, delivered to the Iranian mission to the United Nations, they wrote: "Mr. President, we implore you to bring Shane, Sarah and Josh with you when you visit ourcountry next week to address the General Assembly of the United Nations. Nothing would delight us more than to embrace our children and to express to you, in person, our profound gratitude for the kindness of the Iranian people."

Hickey, Shourd's mother, Nora Shourd, and Fattal's mother, Laura Fattal, reiterated that if their children crossed into Iran, they did so accidentally and with no malice.

"Please accept our regrets for any inconvenience or misunderstanding this unfortunate incident may have caused," they wrote in the letter.

"It just feels like Sarah's a million miles away," Nora Should told "Good Morning America."

"Our lives are on hold."

The mothers said the United Nations' General Assembly would be the perfect time for Ahmadinejad to show compassion for their children.

"It is a time where we applaud the peace and friendship among nations," Laura Fattal said.

The three hikers -- Bauer, 27, a freelance journalist; Shourd, 30, a writer and teacher; and Fattal, 27, an environmental worker -- were last seen July 31 as they set out for a hike in the mountains in the Kurdistan region of the country.

"It was inadvertent if they did stray into Iran," Nora Shourd said. "They're good hikers. They usually know where they're going."

Although the State Department has warned Americans about the risks of visiting that part of the world, Fattal's brother Alex said the Kurdistan area actually has a burgeoning tourist economy: The region is famous for its pistachio trees and stunning waterfalls.

Fattal originally traveled to the area to learn more about his family's roots. His father, Jacob Fattal, was born in Iraq. His mother said she worries about his day-to-day activities and how he's faring in captivity.

"Are they being fed? Does he shower?" Laura Fattal asked. "Where is he sleeping?"

Shourd, although originally from California, had spent time working in the Middle East.

"They're meticulous planners," Chris Rapp, Shourd's brother, said last month. "Typically, they're very careful about where they are and what they're doing."

Nevertheless, the hikers unknowingly strayed into Iran, near the Iraqi border town of Ahman Awah, and were taken into custody.

State Department Calls Notion Hikers Were Spying in Iran 'Ridiculous'

Family members of the hikers told "Good Morning America" last month that the area is heavily wooded with few markings that would indicate the exact location of the border.

"There's not like a big sign saying, 'You're about to go into Iran,'" Shannon Bauer, Shane Bauer's sister, said.

A fourth hiker, Son Mockfessel, had made the fateful decision to stay at the hotel because of a cold.

As his friends were being apprehended, Mockfessel received an urgent phone call from them, saying, "We're surrounded."

At the time of their arrest, Iran's state TV said that the Americans were arrested for "illegal entry into Iran from Iraq's Kurdistan region."

Iranian authorities said the hikers ignored warnings from Iranian guards.

The fate of the three Americans may have been complicated by a report by the Iranian Fars News Agency quoting an Iraqi police commander, Anwar Haji Omar, as saying that the captured Americans are CIA agents.

A State Department official called the spying suggestion ridiculous.

In early August, the hikers were moved to Tehran and the Iranian foreign ministry blocked Swiss diplomatic efforts being made on behalf of the United States, refusing to allow consular access to the hikers or even to disclose their location.

Throughout the ordeal, family and friends have remained optimistic, creating a Web site to tell the story of Bauer, Shourd and Fattal and to keep the world informed of their situation.

"Every day when I wake up, it's the first thing I think about, but nothing yet," Shannon Bauer told "Good Morning America" last month.

Custody of Hikers Compared to Imprisonment of Journalists in North Korea

The arrests prompted comparisons to the two U.S. journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, captured by North Korea earlier this year after walking across the border from China. It also comes on the heels of the detention of U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi earlier this year. Saberi was accused of spying but was later released.

As with Saberi's case, this incident highlights the troublesome relationship between Iran and the United States. The two countries haven't had diplomatic ties in the past 30 years and while President Barack Obama has said his administration is open to talks with his counterpart, Ahmadinejad, the relationship has yet to progress.

In July, Iran's outspoken leader pointed the finger at the West and the U.S. government for fomenting unrest following its contested election, which created a series of violent protests and clashes. Iran has also accused the United States of fostering unrest in Iranian Kurdistan, just across the border from northern Iraq.

Some say that the hikers' arrest and accusations of spying are clear indications of Iranian attitude to the United States.

"How the Iranians treat them is going to be a message to President Obama and the U.S.," Elliot Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told ABC News last month. "If they start talking about spying and start talking about needing to investigate and this thing runs into days and then weeks, that's a very serious message that they don't want better relations with us."