Tue, Aug 04, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Mother of US backpacker held in Iran speaks out

LUCKY COLD A fourth member of the group didn’t go on the ill-fated hike in northern Iraq last week with his three friends because he had a cold, a relative said

AFP AND AP , WASHINGTON AND SAN FRANCISCO

The mother of one of three Americans detained in Iran expressed concern on Sunday about her son’s welfare, after he and his companions reportedly strayed across the border from Iraq.

“My husband and I are eager for the best welfare and conditions for our son, Josh, and for the other two companions he’s with, and that is our only concern, his welfare, and the best conditions for him,” Laura Fattal told reporters.

The trio was arrested on Saturday, Iranian state TV reported, saying they “infiltrated through the Iraqi border” and had not heeded warnings from Iranian border guards. It cited a “well-informed source” in the Interior Ministry.

The fourth member of their group, Shon Meckfessel, didn’t go on an ill-fated hike because he had a cold, his grandmother, Irene Meckfessel, said from her home in Carmichael, California.

He called her on Saturday from the US embassy in Baghdad, she said.

Meckfessel and another of the missing hikers were both studying Arabic, she said.

“He’s very much interested in people and languages and he’s working on a PhD in linguistics,” she said.

The four had traveled to Turkey, then entered Iraq on Tuesday and traveled to Sulaimaniyah, the Kurdish regional government said. On Thursday, one stayed behind while the other three took a taxi to the resort town of Ahmed Awaa, it said.

The regional government’s statement said the three got lost during an excursion and were detained by Iranian authorities at the border.

The area where the trio disappeared is a popular hiking destination known for a picturesque waterfall and rocky scenery as well as a thick growth of fruit and nut trees.

Camping equipment and two backpacks apparently belonging to the Americans were found in the area and it seemed they were hiking above the waterfall when they accidentally crossed the border, a Kurdish security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information.

Shortly before their capture, the three contacted Meckfessel to say they had entered Iran by mistake and were surrounded by troops, the official said.

The US, which does not have diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic, said it has asked Switzerland, which represents its interests in Tehran, to confirm the Iranian reports.

“Our embassy in Tehran is in contact with the Iranian Foreign Ministry and is trying to get a confirmation of the situation,” Swiss Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nadine Olivieri said.

Swiss diplomats have asked for consular access to the Americans if their presence in Iran is confirmed, she said.

The autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq said it was in contact with Iranian and US officials in a bid to resolve the issue.

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