NEW YORK — Two American hikers held for years in an Iranian prison came home Sunday, declaring that they were detained because of their nationality, not because they might have crossed the border from Iraq.
Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer arrived in New York, ending their diplomatic and personal ordeal with a sharp rebuke of the country that sentenced each to eight years in jail for espionage and illegally walking into Iran. They say they may never know if they actually stepped across the border while hiking and getting lost.
"From the very start, the only reason we have been held hostage is because we are American," Fattal said at a news conference at a Manhattan hotel. "Iran has always tied our case to its political disputes with the U.S."
The two 29-year-olds were freed last week under a $1 million bail deal and arrived Wednesday in Oman, greeted by relatives and fellow hiker Sarah Shourd, who was released last year.
The men's families said Sunday they don't know who paid the bail.
The men's saga began in July 2009 with what they called a wrong turn into the wrong country. The three say they were hiking together in Iraq's relatively peaceful Kurdish region along the Iran-Iraq border when Iranian guards detained them. They always maintained their innocence, saying they might have accidentally wandered into Iran.
The two men were convicted of spying last month. Shourd, to whom Bauer proposed marriage while they were imprisoned, was charged but freed last year before any trial.
A beaming Shourd faced reporters and cameras that packed a conference room at Manhattan's Parker Meridien hotel.
"There's a huge burden lifted off of all of our chests — so much joy," she said. "Shane and Josh and I are beginning our lives again, and there are so many new joys that await us; I've never felt as free as I feel today."
But her face darkened when she was asked whether the men had been mistreated in captivity. She said Bauer was beaten and Fattal forced down a flight of stairs.
The men took turns reading statements, surrounded by relatives and Shourd. They didn't take questions from reporters.