I see that there's another news report on CNN regarding detained U.S. hikers in Iran. It seems that all too frequently the media reports similar stories every time some random "hiker" is jailed in a country that is unfriendly to the U.S. These hikers are typically jailed over espionage, spy charges, or illegal entry.

So my question is: are these people really hikers? Or is that term coined by the media to mean something else?

I guess I'm wondering why on earth any random U.S. citizen would be hiking through a country knowing that they would be arrested on sight. Heck, I would ascertain that even if these same people were walking down the middle of Main Street Iran that they would be arrested for something.

Edited to add: All three people have since been released from prison.


1 Answer 1


Yes, they are hikers.

Firstly, their credentials don't exactly scream "military" or "espionage":

  • Shane Bauer is a freelance photojournalist and journalist who has worked for Pacifica News Service, Mother Jones, The Nation and other left-leaning media outlets, using his fluency in speaking Arabic.

  • Sarah Shourd worked in education and social justice in Damascus, Syria where she provided educational opportunities to refugees from the war in Iraq and taught English. Shourd was released by Iran on September 14, 2010 on $500,000 bail.

  • Joshua Fattal is an environmentalist and educator, and had been from January to May 2009 a teaching fellow for the International Honors Program (IHP)'s "Health and Community" study abroad program.

The three were working and living in the middle east, and decided to take a holiday to Iraqi Kurdistan.

“We knew a number of people in Damascus who’d traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan and had a really good time,” said Shon Meckfessel, a friend who accompanied the three on the trip. “We just figured it was a really cool place, and nearby. And it was safe.” They planned their route carefully, Mr. Meckfessel said, deciding to cross into Iraq through Turkey because it seemed safer.

It is also highly likely that they were actually seized in Iraq by Iranian forces that had crossed the border.

That said, a leaked US military report about the event claims that their presence in that region may not have been purely recreational:

The lack of coordination on the part of these hikers, 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. Kurdish leaders remain concerned about international perceptions regarding security as they seek to increase investment in the KRG. Expect KRG leadership to intervene to return the 3 individuals and the Iranian government to accuse them of being spies. Additionally, KRG leadership may impose additional restrictions on private activities near the Iranian border.

(KRG = Kurdish Regional Government)

  • 9
    Their credentials are exactly the type that Hollywood CIA movies create for their characters so while interesting they do not really mean anything. Just because we can not actually see a tie to the CIA/NSA/ISI/etc... Does not mean one does not exist. But as you point out they appear to be troublemakers not agents of the US. But they could still be both or agents of a different government altogether... Increasing the tension between Iran and the US could be advantageous for someone else including Isreal.
    – Chad
    Sep 14, 2011 at 15:33
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    @Chad: since when Hollywood movies depict reality?
    – nico
    Sep 22, 2011 at 15:16
  • @nico - What you appear to be is more important than what you are in actuality. Hollywood has done an excellent job of selling the average spy as someone with a background you would not suspect especially young male students. So wether or not it depicts reality it is understandable why Iran could believe they were. Besides you you voleneer to be the only black guy in a group to spend the night in a haunted house? I didnt think so!
    – Chad
    Sep 22, 2011 at 16:50
  • @Chad: that's the idea they give to the general public, sure, but I doubt that military, secret services, and the likes of them base their arrests on what people look like in movies... it's more about political scheming etc
    – nico
    Sep 22, 2011 at 16:55
  • @nico - Military does not arrest anyone. Secret service is part of the treasury the only arrests it makes are for financial crimes, they protect the president but the investigating and arresting office would be the FBI. And the CIA is an intellegence gathering organization... they dont arrest somuch as rendition people. They only take people they think actually have intellegence or are in the way of their operations. The US has several protectiosn that Iran lacks. Things like reasonable cause, due process, and basic human rights. None of those are required in Iran.
    – Chad
    Sep 22, 2011 at 17:01

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