Swiss to Discuss Release of Detained Americans With Iranians

Three Americans were arrested Friday for straying into Iran while hiking.

ByABC News
August 3, 2009, 6:32 AM

Aug. 3, 2009— -- Swiss diplomats representing U.S. interests in Tehran will meet with the Iranian foreign ministry today to try to free three young Americans who have been detained by Iran.

Joshua Fattal, an environmental worker from Oregon, freelance journalist Shane Bower of Minnesota and Californian Sarah Shourd, who writes and teaches in the Middle East, have been held as prisoners in Iran since Friday.

The three tourists were detained after straying into Iran while hiking in the mountains in the Iraqi border town of Ahmed Awah, a popular resort area famous for its pistachio trees and picturesque waterfalls. The border between Iran and Iraq is not clearly marked.

Americans have been repeatedly warned by the U.S. government not to travel to Iraq. Even though U.S. troops have withdrawn from major cities, violent attacks and bombings remain prevalent throughout the country.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters today that the United States still did not have official confirmation that the Americans are being held and have asked the Swiss to help find out.

"Obviously we are concerned and call on Iranian government to help us determine the whereabouts of the three missing Americans," she said.

A U.S. State Department official said that Iran was "not forthcoming" when the Swiss inquired about the Americans on Sunday.

The Swiss ambassador is going to the Iranian Foreign Ministry today to confirm the Americans are being held and to request consular access, the official said.

According to Iran's state TV, the three were arrested for "illegal entry into Iran from Iraq's Kurdistan region." Iranian authorities said the hikers ignored warnings from Iranian guards.

"The Iranians said they have arrested them because they entered their land without legal permission," said Qubad Talabani, the Kurdish regional government's envoy to Washington.

A fourth American, linguistics student and English teacher Shon Meckfessel from Seattle, also hiked with the group for part of the time. Meckfessel, now at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said he received a cell phone call from his friends saying, "We're surrounded."

Fattal, who loved to travel, wanted to know more about his family's roots in the region. His father, Jacob Fattal, was born in Iraq.

"Currently, we are only concerned about the well-being of Joshua and the other two people," Jacob Fattal told ABC News. "We hope they come home as soon as possible."