US hikers freed after more than 2 yrs in jail


It has been a dramatic couple of years for Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. They ran into the arms of their loved ones on the tarmac at the airport in Oman's capital city.

The families called this "the best day of our lives."

Last month they had been sentenced to serve eight years in an Iranian prison for a crime they say they did not commit. Now, after much legal and political wrangling, they are free, and their sentences have been commuted.

The Americans were picked up from Evin prison by a convoy of Swiss and Omani diplomats and were immediately taken to the local airport.

A private plane - on loan from the Omani government - flew them to the capital city of Muscat, where they made only brief remarks to the press.

"We are so happy we are free and so relieved," Fattal said. "Our deepest gratitude to his majesty for obtaining our release."

Fattal and Bauer, along with their fellow UC Berkeley classmate Sarah Shourd, were arrested along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009. The three were accused of being spies, a charge they denied.

Shourd was freed last year on a similar bail deal, but she never gave up on the friends she left behind.

"I know what Shane and Josh are enduring. I can see them in their cramped little cell with very little sunlight, and they only get out one hour a day, and they exercise side by side in a space the size of a towel," Shourd said in past interview.

Last week, in what appeared to be a move to coincide with his U.N. visit this week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the two Americans would be released.

"We didn't make this decision under pressure. It is a humanitarian decision," Ahmadinejad said in an interview with George Stephanopoulos.

But Iran's powerful judiciary committee quickly disputed the claim, saying it was their decision to make.

After getting approval from two judges and posting bail, the two Americans are finally out and should be heading home soon. It's unclear when they will be back on American soil.

The last time they saw their families was over a year ago when their mothers were permitted to visit them in prison.

Bauer and Fattal are expected to stay in Oman for a few more days to rest with their families before flying back to the U.S.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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