TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has arrested three Americans for illegally entering the country from neighboring Iraq, and a prominent Iranian lawmaker said Tuesday that authorities were investigating whether to charge them with spying.
U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Robert A. Wood dismissed the allegations of espionage and said U.S. officials were still trying to determine the fate of the Americans.
Hakim Qadir Humat Jan, an Iraqi security official in Sulaimaniyah, in the Kurdish region to the north, said the three were merely backpackers who got lost while hiking in a mountainous region where the Iran-Iraq border is not clearly marked.
The University of California at Berkeley identified the detained Americans as Shane Bauer, 27, of Minnesota; Sarah Emily Shourd, 30, of California; and Joshua Felix Fattal, 27 of Pennsylvania. Bauer, a freelance journalist, is fluent in Arabic. Shourd identifies herself as a teacher-activist-writer and has been published by Brave New Traveler.
A fourth traveler in the group, Shon Meckfessel, 36, a graduate student at the University of Washington, was expected to join them on the hike in northern Iraq but declined because he felt ill, according to Kurdish officials. He was sent to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad after his friends were detained.
The case is the latest source of friction with Washington over the detention of Americans, following the espionage trial earlier this year of American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi.
Mohammad Karim Abedi, an Iranian lawmaker and member of Parliament's National Security Committee, said authorities were investigating whether to charge the detained Americans with espionage.