NEWS

Iran to free 2 U.S. hikers convicted as spies

09/13/2011 07:48 EDT | Updated 11/13/2011 05:12 EST

Two American men arrested in 2009 near the Iran-Iraq border while hiking and later convicted of spying despite maintaining their innocence will be released from an Iranian jail this week after paying bail of $500,000 each.

Defence lawyer Masoud Shafiei said Tuesday that Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal would be freed after paying the bail set by Iran. Shafiei informed the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Iran, of the release of the two men, who are appealing their convictions.

As well, in an interview with NBC's Today Show that aired Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted Bauer and Fattal would be released in two days.

He described the bail offer as a "humanitarian gesture," and repeated complaints about attention for Iranians held in U.S. prisons.

The television program's website said Ahmadinejad made the remark about the Americans in an interview with Ann Curry.

Bauer, Fattal and Bauer's fiancée, Sarah Shourd, said they were hiking in the mountains of northern Iraq and mistakenly crossed the unmarked border into Iran. Shourd was released on $500,000 bail in September.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States is hopeful for the quick release of the two men, and "encouraged" by Ahmadinejad's comments.

"We have followed this very closely and we are encouraged by what the Iranian government has said today," Clinton told reporters at the State Department in Washington. "We obviously hope that we will see a positive outcome from what appears to be a decision by the government."

Families react

The families of both men made a statement saying the freedom of Bauer and Fattal "means more to us than anything and it's a huge relief to read that they are going to be released."

According to the statement, the families of the pair do not have any more details at this time but are overjoyed by the positive news.

"We're grateful to everyone who has supported us and looking forward to our reunion with Shane and Josh," it added, "We hope to say more when they are finally back in our arms."

Obama denies 3 were spies

After returning to the U.S., Shourd told a news conference that she was grateful for her release, but felt only "one-third free" because Bauer and Fattal remained in Tehran's Evin Prison.

"The only thing that enabled me to cross the gulf from prison to freedom alone was the knowledge that Shane and Josh wanted with all their hearts for my suffering to end," she said.

Shourd is living in Oakland, Calif., Bauer grew up in Onamia, Minn., and Fattal is from Philadelphia. 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.

President Barack Obama has denied the three were tied to any U.S. intelligence efforts.

The lengthy detention of Bauer, Fattal and Shourd has added to tensions between Iran and the United States over issues such as Iran's disputed nuclear program.

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