Friends ID trio detained by Iran, say they were only hiking
BERKELEY, Calif. - Shane Bauer, a freelance writer with a passion for travel and the Middle East, planned to spend a week covering the Kurdish elections in Iraq when he checked with his employer last week.
In an e-mail, Bauer told Sandy Close, executive director of Pacific News Service, that he wanted to “feel out the situation there and get some ideas for deeper stories.’’
“Kurdistan is the big story in Iraq now,’’ Bauer wrote in the e-mail. “I’m off to Kurdistan . . . ’’
Within a few days, Bauer went missing - one of three Americans detained by Iranian authorities.
The status of the three remained unknown yesterday despite efforts by Swiss diplomats to obtain details from the Iranian foreign minister. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also appealed to Iran for information.
The three have been identified by friends and relatives as Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Joshua Fattal. A fourth member of the group, Shon Meckfessel, was to have gone on the hike but did not because he felt sick.
Close said Bauer was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
After he sent e-mails last week, Close said Bauer had gone backpacking with Shourd, his girlfriend, in a popular tourist area renowned for its scenery. Close doubted that Bauer would have deliberately tried to enter Iran.
“He did not express any interest in going to Iran. He did not speak Farsi, his passion was Arabic,’’ she said.
Bauer has traveled to the Middle East and North Africa and was most recently based in Damascus where he is working on a film about Darfur.
Bauer’s mother, Cindy Hickey of Pine City, Minn., said she is concerned for the safety and welfare of the group and hopes they return safely.
Fattal’s father, Jacob, who runs a tech magazine outside Philadelphia, echoed those sentiments. “All we care about is the well-being of Josh and his two hiker friends,’’ he said.
A Kurdish official in Iraq has said the three contacted a colleague to say they had entered Iran by mistake Friday and were surrounded by troops. Iran’s state television later said the Americans were arrested after they did not heed warnings from Iranian border guards.
Bauer and Shourd, both graduates of the University of California at Berkeley, had been living in the San Francisco Bay area. Close described Bauer as “an artist whose first love is photography. He’s also linguistically gifted and just wanted to immerse himself in the Middle East.’’
One of the articles posted on Bauer’s website is a piece written for The Nation about the US-backed Iraq Special Operations Force. Richard Kim, senior editor of the magazine, praised Bauer, saying “he did excellent and meticulous work on that article.’’
Kim said Bauer is not currently on assignment for The Nation.
Shourd has written for a number of online publications, including Brave New Traveler. She has also has taught English.
Ross Borden, founder of Matador, an online travel magazine that includes Brave New Traveler, described Shourd as “very professional. She wrote a great story for us,’’
“She’s obviously a professional traveler, as you can see by her latest adventure, going hiking in Iraq,’’ he said. “Not many people go hiking in Iraq.’’
Fattal spent three years recently living with Aprovecho, a group dedicated to sustainable farming near Cottage Grove, Ore. He lived with about nine others and worked as the group’s intern coordinator before leaving about eight months ago, according to Jason Brown, who now holds Fattal’s job.
From January to June, Fattal traveled overseas as a teaching assistant with the International Honors Program, visiting Switzerland, India, South Africa, and China on a global ecology program.