Students missing in Iran have Bay Area ties

August 2, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Efforts are not going well to obtain the release of three Americans held in Iran. Two of them have ties to the Bay Area.

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The three were hiking near the Iraq/Iran border when they crossed into Iran and were captured. It's an area the State Department warns against all but essential travel.

The families of these three Americans are very worried - and uncertain about how to handle this. ABC7 interviewed a couple of Sara Shourd's friends in Oakland Sunday night, but her mom later said she didn't want anyone talking to the media because she's worried it could impact her daughter's release. But the friends and family of another one of the detainee's are speaking out. Meanwhile the State Department hasn't said much about the efforts to get them released.

Shane Bauer graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies. His girlfriend, Sara Shourd, is from Oakland. The two moved to Damascus, Syria about a year ago. They were hiking with their friend Joshua Fattal when they were detained in Iran.

"Our relationship has always been fantastic he's a great guy," said Fattal's friend Chris Foraker.

Foraker said he is not surprised to hear Fattal was hiking in Iraq.

"Josh is a very curious person and is interested in the world wants to eat the world whole," said Foraker.

Another friend said Fattal's father is from Iraq - and he wanted to see where his father came from. His mother made a brief statement on Sunday from her home in Pennsylvania.

"My husband and I - our only concern is for the health and welfare of Josh, Shane and Sara," said Fattal's mother.

Officials say the trio was hiking in a relatively safe region in northern Iraq known for its picturesque waterfall when they mistakenly crossed over into iran. But Iran's government run Press TV says the three had been warned not to cross the border.

"They have been detained for illegal entry into Iran from Iraq's Kurdistan region. Officials say the case is under investigation," said and Iranian reporter.

A fourth friend was also supposed to be on the hike, but Shon Meckfessel of Seattle stayed back because he didn't feel well. He is now safe at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad much to the relief of his friends and family.

"I'm very very happy to hear that I'm very worried about his friends," said Meckfessel's friend Nour Chida.

The United States doesn't have diplomatic relations with Iran - so Swiss diplomats are talking to Iranian officials on behalf of the United States. Foreign relation experts are worried the Iranian government will accuse these Americans of acting as spies.

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