Shourd release lifts hopes of other U.S. hikers’ moms

/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

The mothers of two American men still detained as suspected spies in Iran said Wednesday that the release of a third member of their hiking party on humanitarian grounds increases the likelihood their sons will be released at some point, too.

"We have always been very optimistic, but this increases the optimism," Cindy Hickey, the mother of 28-year-old detainee Shane Bauer, told TODAY's Matt Lauer during a live interview Wednesday morning in New York. "We are very grateful to the country of Oman for helping Sarah [Shourd] gain her freedom."

Hickey and Laura Fattal, mother of detainee Josh Fattal, also 28, said it was with mixed emotions that they watched televised coverage of the emotional reunion of Shourd, 32, with her mother, Nora Shourd, in Oman. Sarah Shourd and Shane Bauer got engaged during one of their daily one-hour breaks in the yard of Iran's Evin Prison.

"We are so happy that Sarah is with Nora, but I want Josh home and I know Cindy wants Shane home," Laura Fattal told Lauer.

Cindy Hickey added, "The emotion between a mother and a child. I am so very happy that Norah and Sara are together. [I] can't wait until that opportunity is given to me."

Both women said they have no idea about how Shourd's release came about. It is not been disclosed whom put up the $500,000 bail reportedly delivered to an Iranian bank in Oman, a key U.S. ally in the region.

The release of Shourd came two days after Iran indicted her, Bauer and Fattal on espionage charges. The three were detained after they entered Iran's Kurdish region on July 29, 2009, in what the U.S. has characterized as an unmarked border area.

Some have speculated that Shourd's release may have been timed to reduce tensions between the U.S. and Iran in advance of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's scheduled attendance at a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week.

"We welcome him to the United States ... We say, 'Please, please bring Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer home to the United States and to us, their mothers," Laura Fattal said.

Shourd in Oman
Meanwhile, Sarah Shourd rested Wednesday in Oman's capital on her first full day of freedom after more than 13 months in custody.

U.S. and Omani officials said it was unclear how long Shourd would stay in the country with her mother Nora, or whether she will seek immediate medical attention.

Iranian authorities freed the 32-year-old woman Tuesday after Oman — a key ally of both Iran and the West — mediated a deal for $500,000 bail that satisfied her captors and apparently did not violate U.S. economic sanctions.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because they were not authorized to brief the media. Details of the bail payment have not been disclosed.

Shourd thanked Oman for its role after landing at a special royal airport aboard a jet chartered by the sultanate. But she has stayed out of the public eye since her arrival.

Oman and Iran share the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Nearly 40 percent of the world's oil passes through the narrow channel. Oman also maintains close U.S. ties, including arms purchases, and is a regular stop for high-level Pentagon officials.

Two men still detained
Shourd, Bauer and Fattal were detained along Iran's border with Iraq in July 2009 and later accused of spying. The two men remain in a Tehran prison under indictment on espionage-related charges and could face trial — with proceedings for Shourd in absentia.

Their families say they were innocent hikers in the scenic mountains of Iraq's Kurdish region and if they did stray across the border into Iran, they did so unwittingly.

"I'm grateful and I'm very humbled by this moment," Shourd had said before boarding the plane in Tehran for the two-hour flight to Oman.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he welcomed Shourd's release and "the flexibility of Iranian government."

But he also called for the release of the "remaining two American hikers so that they could join their families as soon as possible."

President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton both thanked Oman for its assistance.

Oman "in recent days and weeks became a key interlocutor to help us work this case with the Iranian government," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tuesday. "And we are very grateful to the role that Oman has played."

Money changed hands?
He could not say whether any money had changed hands in winning Shourd's release, but noted that "arrangements were made that satisfied Iranian requirements under their judicial system."

At the same time, Crowley said the U.S. government had no information to suggest any U.S. or international sanctions on Iran had been violated. The sanctions were imposed over Iran's disputed nuclear program.

FILE - In this May 20, 2010, file photo, American hikers Shane Bauer, left, Sarah Shourd, center, and Josh Fattal, sit at the Esteghlal Hotel in Tehran, Iran. The mothers of three Americans detained on Iran since last July 31, are again pleading for their release as the one-year anniversary of their capture approaches. The mothers on Thursday July 15, 2010 released a letter they sent to the head of Iran's judiciary. (AP Photo/Press TV, File)Str / Press TV

Shourd smiled and looked relaxed during her whirlwind departure from prison to the arms of her mother in Oman.

But the full picture of her health has not been made public. Her mother says she has serious medical problems, including a breast lump and precancerous cervical cells.

The plans for her release on health grounds touched off days of mixed signals in Iran and exposed deep political rifts between Ahmadinejad's allies and the powerful judiciary, which demanded the high bail.

Ahmadinejad is scheduled to travel to New York later this month to attend the U.N. General Assembly.

Some analysts say Shourd's release could have been timed to deflect the international outcry over a stoning sentence for a woman convicted of adultery and the continued crackdown on opposition groups — which led two Iranian ambassadors in Europe to quit this week and seek asylum.

Shourd, who grew up in Los Angeles, Bauer, who grew up in Onamia, Minnesota, and Fattal, who grew up in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, were detained on July 31, 2009, and accused of illegally crossing into Iran and spying.

A click-through history of modern Iran and its love-hate relationship with the United States

Convictions could bring sentences of up to 10 years in prison.

Shourd's mother, Nora, said she has hoped and prayed for her daughter's release for 410 days.

"Sarah has had a long and difficult detainment and I am going to make sure that she now gets the care and attention she needs and the time and space to recover," she said. "I can only imagine how bittersweet her freedom must be for her, leaving Shane and Josh behind."

A statement by the three families said they were "overjoyed" Shourd had been released, but added they were "heartbroken that Shane and Josh are still being denied their freedom for no just cause ... They deserve to come home, too."

Iran has shown no hints of clemency for the two men.

John Springer contributed reporting to this story.