Video: What's next for released hikers?

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    >>> the two american hikers enjoying their first full day of freedom in more than two years. as natalie mentioned, following a flight to oman wednesday shane bauer and josh fattal ran down the steps to greet their families and shane 's fiance who was also detained before her release last year and after a few moments alone shane and josh made a brief statement.

    >> what is the first thing you're going to do?

    >> we are so happy we are free and so relieved we are free. our deepest gratitude goes toward his majesty, the sultan of oman for obtaining our release.

    >> two years in prison is too long and we sincerely hope for the freedom of other political prisoners and other unjustly imprisoned people in america and iran.

    >> we're now joined by a close friend of josh fattal and creator of the free the hikers website. also joining us is an american journalist who was held for 100 days in the same tehran jail as josh and shane in 2009 . she has written a book about her experience called " between two worlds my life in captivity in iran." good morning to both of you.

    >> good morning.

    >> good morning.

    >> first of all, you have gotten pretty close because of this website that you've been working on, the twitter account, the facebook account, very close with the families. what more might you tell us about how the families and shane and josh are doing today?

    >> i guess the biggest thing is they're just feeling extreme, extreme joy to have this ordeal finally, finally over, and to finally be reunited after being separated for so incredibly long.

    >> we've been seeing those images there, shane grabbing sarah and kiss herg. he asked her to marry him in prison.

    >> yes.

    >> poignant moment.

    >> yes, yes. she has done an amazing job of, you know, keeping her emotions in check so that she can continue the intense fight pretty much, you know, the instant she was released. so i'm just thrilled for her that she can now focus on her own feelings about being finally reunited.

    >> she has e-mailed you since seeing shane and what has she had to say?

    >> well, i heard from her, you know, just before actually, just before she saw him and, you know, she was just really anticipating the reunion and -- but being sarah , you know, she said to me, i can't wait to see you see josh. so she was still thinking of others.

    >> the release of shane and josh must be -- not only have been emotional to watch for you but also a bit surreal because of your own experience. your situation was different. you were not in jail as long. but what can you tell us? what glimpse can you tell us about what these two young men are facing in their recovery?

    >> well, i think it's different for each person who goes through prison, but what i've seen in some others and what i saw in me is that it takes time. at first you just want to spend time with your family and your loved ones because i think you have the renewed or a new gratitude for your family and friends when you go through the experience. then you also want to enjoy freedoms that you didn't have when you were in prison. and for these two men, they were in prison for such a long time. these are just simple freedoms like walking down the street without a blindfold on or being able to shut off a light at night. i don't know if they were handcuffed but i was so going in a car without being handcuffed. these freedoms are very valuable and i think we realize how much we take them for granted when we're deprived of them.

    >> were there lingering nightmares, fears for you that you might be expected for these young men?

    >> i have had nightmares in the past and i've heard from other prisoners that sometimes they do as well. they come and go. sometimes in the past i've looked over my shoulder to see if somebody is following me. i don't know if these men will go through the same thing but i can say that for many people who go through an ordeal like this i hear that some of them find meaning from this difficult experience and i saw that in some of my cell mates as well who were suffering for standing up for basic human rights but some of them just realized that you can't control your physical atmosphere so you can at least try to control your own attitude and maybe that can help the hikers as they go on to their next stage in life.

    >> thank you so much. probably having sarah there also will

updated 9/22/2011 10:30:44 AM ET 2011-09-22T14:30:44

Two Americans released from an Iranian prison were spending their first full day of freedom Thursday in seclusion with their families, after more than two years in custody accused as spies.

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer arrived Wednesday in Oman under a $1 million bail-for-freedom deal and were embraced by relatives. Also on hand was Sarah Shourd, who was freed by Iran last year.

It was a joyful reunion in the Gulf state of Oman and the families called it "the best day of our lives." President Barack Obama said the men's release was "wonderful news."

The three were detained in July 2009 along the Iran-Iraq border. They maintained their innocence, saying they were only hiking in Iraq's relatively peaceful Kurdish region and might have accidentally wandered into Iran. Last month, Fattal and Bauer were sentenced to eight years in prison each for illegal entry into Iran and espionage.

American and Omani officials did not disclose details on Thursday about the Americans' plans and when they may head home. After Shourd was freed last September, she stayed for days in Oman before she flew to United States.

Iran's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday that the pair's release was a gesture of Islamic mercy and a response to calls for their freedom by world leaders such as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Oman's ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

Complicated maneuvers
Wednesday's release capped complicated diplomatic maneuvers over a week of confusing signals by Iran's leadership. Although the fate of Fattal and Bauer gripped America, it was on the periphery of the larger showdowns between Washington and Tehran that include Iran's nuclear program and its ambitions to widen military and political influence in the Middle East and beyond.

Video: What's next for released hikers? (on this page)

"Today can only be described as the best day of our lives," said a Wednesday statement from their families. "We have waited for nearly 26 months for this moment and the joy and relief we feel at Shane and Josh's long-awaited freedom knows no bounds."

"We now all want nothing more than to wrap Shane and Josh in our arms, catch up on two lost years and make a new beginning, for them and for all of us," the statement added.

Obama called it "wonderful, wonderful news about the hikers, we are thrilled ... It's a wonderful day for them and for us."

The release came on the eve of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's previously scheduled address Thursday to the U.N. General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting.

The families and Shourd were on the tarmac at a royal airfield near the main international airport in Oman's capital, Muscat. Shourd, who was arrested with the two but freed a year ago, received a marriage proposal from Bauer while in prison.

'So happy we are free'
At about 20 minutes before midnight Wednesday, Fattal and Bauer — wearing jeans and casual shirts — raced down the steps from the blue-and-white plane. The men appeared thin, but in good health.

"We're so happy we are free," Fattal told reporters in Oman. The two men made brief statements before leaving the airport with their families.

"Two years in prison is too long," Bauer said, and hoped their release from prison will also bring "freedom for political prisoners in America and Iran."

Image: Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd
Jumana El-heloueh  /  Reuters
Sarah Shourd, right, hugs fiance Shane Bauer upon his arrival in Muscat, Oman, on Wednesday.

In many ways, the release was a mirror image of the scene last year when Shourd was freed on $500,000 bail. That deal, too, was mediated by Oman, an Arabian peninsula sultanate with close ties to both Tehran and Washington. A statement from Oman said it hoped the release would lead to better ties between Iran and the United States.

The first hint of change in the case came last week when Ahmadinejad said Fattal and Bauer could be released within days. But then came the voice of the hard-line ruling clerics, who have waged a stinging campaign against the president and his allies in recent months as part of power struggle.

The clerics made it clear: Only they have the authority to set the timing and ground rules to release the men. After several days of halting progress, their Iranian defense attorney Masoud Shafiei secured on Wednesday the necessary judicial approval for the bail — $500,000 for each man.

Timeline: Detained hikers (on this page)

Hours later, the gates of Tehran's Evin prison opened and the Americans headed in a convoy with Swiss and Omani diplomats to Tehran's aging Mehrabad airport. Switzerland represents U.S. diplomatic interests in Iran because the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Until their release, the last previous direct contact family members had with Bauer and Fattal was in May 2010, when their mothers were permitted a short visit in Tehran, which Iranian officials used for high-profile propaganda.

More recently, Iran used the men's pending release to draw attention to Iranians in U.S. prisons and difficulties faced by their families such as securing visas for visits.

Since her release last year, Shourd has lived in Oakland, California. Bauer, a freelance journalist, grew up in Onamia, Minnesota. and Fattal, an environmental activist, is from suburban Philadelphia.

Shourd and Bauer had been living together in Damascus, Syria, where Bauer was working as a freelance journalist and Shourd as an English teacher. Fattal went to visit them in July 2009 shortly before their trip to northern Iraq.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Timeline: Detained hikers

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