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Report says Iran grabbed 3 U.S. hikers in Iraq

A classified American military report released Friday by WikiLeaks confirms that three American hikers detained by Iran were arrested on the Iraqi side of the border.
Image: Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal
From left are American hikers Shane Bauer, still detained, recently freed Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal, also still detained. Documents released by WikiLeaks say the three charged by Iran as spies were arrested in Iraq, according to the New York Times.ATTA KENARE / AFP - Getty Images file
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

A secret American military report released Friday by WikiLeaks appears to confirm that three American hikers detained by Iran were arrested on the Iraqi side of the border.

The document, published in The New York Times, contradicts Iran's assertion that the three charged as spies illegally crossed into Iran when they were picked up July 31, 2009.

The military document describes the three as "tourists/reporters" and says they were kidnapped and "were being taken to the Iranian border."

One of the three detained hikers, Sarah Shourd, was released from custody last month and returned to the U.S.

The other two, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, Shourd's fiance, remain in custody and have been ordered to stand trial Nov. 6 on spy charges.

Iran's official news agency IRNA said earlier this week that Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi confirmed the trial. "Whatever case we have against them will be passed on to the judiciary," he said.

The hikers' lawyer, Masoud Shafii, said well-known Revolutionary Court Judge Abolqasem Salavati will preside over the case, the Voice of Amiercia reported Wednesday. Salavati became an Iranian celebrity after the 2009 televised trials of opposition activists held for protesting against Iran's disputed presidential election.

The leaked document notes what the Times termed a "frenetic search" after a fourth tourist, Shon Meckfessel, "did not go hiking with them and reported that a kidnapped female called him saying that they were being surrounded by armed men."

The document was also cited by The Investigative Fund reporting organization, which noted that Meckfessel stayed behind because he was feeling ill.

The secret document, the Times said, indicates the American military did not know at first who was holding the Americans.

The Times said in its story that the document shows a drone aircraft was sent to look for the missing Americans, two F-16s jet fighters were alerted, and American Special Operations forces were sent to pick up Meckfessel so he could be taken to Baghdad for questioning.

A Kurdish military force told U.S. officials at the time that Iranians detained the Americans “for being too close to the border.”

The July report also cites the hikers' “lack of coordination” in venturing to northern Iraq, "particularly after being forewarned, indicates an intent to agitate and create publicity regarding international policies on Iran."

“The leadership in Iran benefits as it focuses the Iranian population on a perceived external threat rather than internal dissension,” it notes.