American hikers freed from prison leave Iran
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Two Americans jailed in Iran as spies left Tehran on Wednesday, closing a high-profile drama with archfoe Washington that brought more than two years of hope then heartbreak for the families as the Islamic Republic’s hard-line rulers rejected international calls for their release.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA said Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal left Iran just as darkness fell in the capital. An Omani official told The Associated Press the men were flying to the capital, Muscat. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. He did not say how long the two men will stay in the Gulf state before heading home to America.
The case of Bauer and Fattal, who were convicted by an Iranian court of spying for the United States, has deepened strains in the already fraught relationship between Washington and Tehran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was first to mention last week that the Americans’ could be released, is in the United States and is scheduled to speak at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.
The release came just minutes before President Barack Obama addressed the U.N. General Assembly. There was no direct evidence that Iran timed the American’s freedom to overshadow Obama’s speech, but Iran has conducted international political stagecraft in the past.
Most famously, Iran waited until just moments after Ronald Reagan’s presidential inauguration in January 1981 to free 52 American hostages held for 444 days at the former U.S. Embassy after it was stormed by militants backing Iran’s Islamic Revolution. The timing was seen as a way to embarrass ex-President Jimmy Carter for his backing of Iran’s former monarch.
Associated Press reporters saw a convoy of vehicles with Swiss and Omani diplomats leaving Evin prison on Wednesday afternoon with Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal inside, heading to Tehran’s Mehrabad airport.
Switzerland represents American interests in Iran because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Tehran and the prisoners are expected to be flown to Oman now.
The two men, both 29, were driven out of the prison compound just minutes after their Iranian attorney, Masoud Shafiei, said he has completed the paperwork for their release.
“I have finished the job that I had to do as their lawyer,” Shafiei said. He obtained signatures of two judges on a bail-for-freedom deal. A $1 million bail — $500,000 for each one — was posted.
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