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Hikers' fate in Iran still mystery

SAN FRANCISCO — Freelance journalist Shane Bauer planned to cover the elections in northern Iraq's self-ruled Kurdish region. His girlfriend, Sarah Shourd, was going with him on a backpacking trip. Another friend stayed put, under the weather with a cold.

Now, Bauer, Shourd and a third companion, Joshua Fattal, are believed to be held by Iranian authorities for crossing into Iranian territory illegally. Friends and family say the group were adventuresome travelers who accidentally stumbled into the wrong place at the wrong time.

Pacific News Service executive director Sandy Close, who hired Bauer to cover the elections in Kurdistan, said she does not believe he ever intended to go to neighboring Iran.

In an e-mail, Bauer told Close he wanted to "feel out the situation (in Kurdistan) and get some ideas for deeper stories."

"Kurdistan is the big story in Iraq now," Bauer wrote in the e-mail provided to the Associated Press. "I'm off to Kurdistan."

The status of the three remained unknown Monday despite efforts by Swiss diplomats to obtain details. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also appealed to Iran for information.

Close said Bauer went backpacking with Shourd in a popular tourist area renowned for its scenery. It was unclear how the two met up with Fattal.

Close said Bauer wouldn't have tried to enter Iran. "He did not express any interest in going to Iran," she said.

A Kurdish official in Iraq has said the three contacted a colleague to say they had entered Iran by mistake on 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.

One of the articles posted on Bauer's Web site is a piece written for the Nation about the U.S.-backed Iraq Special Operations Force. Richard Kim, senior editor of the magazine, praised Bauer, saying "he did excellent and meticulous work on that article."

Shourd has written for a number of online publications, including Brave New Traveler. She also has taught English.

Ross Borden, founder of an online travel magazine that includes Brave New Traveler, said, "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."

Hikers' fate in Iran still mystery 08/03/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 3, 2009 10:19pm]
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