Freed American woman stays out of public eye in Oman after release from Iranian prison

Published September 16, 2010

| Associated Press

MUSCAT, Oman (AP) — American Sarah Shourd stayed out of the spotlight for a second day Thursday, resting privately in Oman's sunny seaside capital after more than 13 months in an Iranian prison.

It is unclear how long the 32-year-old plans to stay in Oman. The Gulf Arab sultanate played a key role in securing her release by acting as intermediary and handling the details of her $500,000 bail.

Since arriving at a royal airfield aboard a private jet here late Tuesday, Shourd has had a medical checkup and spoke briefly by phone with the mothers of two other Americans — Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal — also detained along Iraq's border with Iran last year.

The U.S. Embassy in Muscat said Thursday it has been told by Shourd's family that she would not be speaking to the media in Oman except for a statement she plans to make immediately before leaving the country.

The mothers of the other jailed Americans — Laura Fattal and Cindy Hickey, Bauer's mother — said Wednesday they were encouraged by Shourd's release and hope their sons will be freed soon as well. They spoke with Shourd by phone for a few minutes Wednesday afternoon.

"She said they're very strong," Hickey said. "Their spirits are up and they have positive attitudes, and that too was a great relief to me."

The mothers are calling on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to bring their sons with him when he comes to New York for the United Nations General Assembly next week.

Omani officials have offered few details of their involvement in securing Shourd's release.

To help secure Shourd's release, Oman, which is considered an ally by both Washington and Tehran, played intermediary for a $500,000 bail that satisfied Iranian authorities and apparently did not violate U.S. economic sanctions.

The source of the bail payment has not been disclosed, though it is likely that Oman's long-standing ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, played a key role in winning Shourd's freedom.

Shourd's attorney, Masoud Shafiei, said in Tehran that a "foreign individual paid the bail in Muscat" and insisted it was "neither a government nor an embassy."

But Mustafa Alani, the head of security studies at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, questioned whether any money changed hands, suggesting instead that Oman may have made a promise to guarantee Shourd's bail to give authorities in Iran political cover.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, currently en route back to the United States from the Middle East, had called the Swiss foreign minister to thank her and express "the strong gratitude of the American people" for efforts made by Swiss diplomats in pressing for Shourd's release.

He added that Clinton was expected to make a similar call to Omani leader Qaboos bin Said.

Crowley also repeated calls for the release of Shourd's two companions, saying their cases were identical to hers.

"The facts regarding Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal are identical," he said. "So, if the Iranian judicial system has reached a judgment with respect to Sarah Shourd, we believe very strongly they can reach the same judgment with respect to Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer."

The two remain in Tehran's Evin Prison under indictment on espionage-related charges and could soon face trial. The three were detained along Iran's border with Iraq in July 2009 and later accused of spying. Convictions could bring sentences of up to 10 years in prison.

Their families say the Americans 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.

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Associated Press writers Matt Lee in Washington and Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.

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