Sunday, August 2, 2009

Joshua Fattal is American Held in Iran

Joshua Fattal is one of three Americans held in Iran. See updates below - breaking 11-09-09.
Update 12-14-09 below. Update 9-15-10: Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd became engaged while in Evin prison in Tehran. Yesterday, Sarah was released and reunited with her mother, Nora Shourd, in Oman, Jordan.

Joshua Fattal 27, Sarah Shourd 31, and Shane Bauer 27 were captured near the Iranian border of northern Iraq.

Reportedly, the three left the Nirwan Hotel in the city of Sulaimaniya, Iraq to hike in nearby mountains. One companion of the three, Shon Meckfessel, felt ill and stayed behind.

Joshua Fattal's Facebook profile is here. He is a resident of Eugene, Oregon and a junior at the Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn, NY according to his bio at The Jewish Week where he is a contributor. See apology and correction below.

Reportedly, the three left the Nirwan Hotel in the city of Sulaimaniya, Iraq to hike in nearby mountains. One companion of the three, Shon Meckfessel, felt ill and stayed behind. According to a report out of Sulaimaniyah, Iraq published by TheRegister-Guard:

A Joshua Fattal was the internship coordinator at Aprovecho Research Center, a nonprofit research and education center near Cottage Grove.

Fattal posted an entry on his Facebook page on July 17, saying that he was in the Middle East. In response to a friend’s query, he wrote that he was on his way to Damascus and also that he was planning to be in Kurdistan.
The entry reads: “… overland is very long indeed, i hope to arrive tomorrow, i know my hosts are planning a trip in the comıng weeks, for a week or so, i think to kurdistan …”
In Wednesday entries on his Facebook page, Fattal wrote that he is “getting in touch with my roots between the tigres and euphrates valleys …” and that “Iraq is on my mind.”
Ms. Shourd is a writer and a contributor to New America Media, and Matador Pulse. According to NWCN.com, is said to be from "the Bay area."

There is a Facebook profile for a Sarah Shroud from California who is a "teacher/writer at Iraqi Students Project Connections." The profile also says Ms. Shourd is "currently based in the Middle East." See more on Ms. Shourd here.

Shane Bauer is "from the Bay area," and is also a contributor to New American Media. Mr. Bauer is an accomplished writer and photographer. Read more about Bauer here.

Shon Meckfessel is a resident of Seattle and a PhD student at the University of Washington. Shon Meckfessel's Facebook profile is here showing Sarah Shourd and Shane Michael Bauer as "friends."

All four Americans had traveled to Turkey and entered the Kurdish region at the Zakho crossing on Tuesday, July 28th. Iran's media says the trio was arrested for illegally crossing the border on July 31th, at about 1:30 p.m. Iraq time. The hikers were able to call Meckfessel and say they were surrounded by Iranian troops. Earlier reports say that Meckfessel then left his hotel unannounced, leaving luggage behind. Shon Meckfessel's family say they have heard from him and he is safe inside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Local sources in Iraq said they warned the hikers that the area they planned to hike was very close to the Iran-Iraq border.
Kurdish officials from the self-ruled region in northern Iraq said the three people detained had mistakenly crossed into Iranian territory Friday while hiking in a mountainous area near the resort town of Ahmed Awaa. Iraq's Kurdish region has been relatively free of the violence that plagues the rest of Iraq. Foreigners often feel freer to move around without security guards in the area, and it's relatively easy to enter the region from Turkey, particularly by plane. The Kurdish government generally grants visitors visas valid for one week when they arrive at the airport.
The area where the hikers were detained is said to a beautiful area and a popular hiking destination:
...known for a picturesque waterfall and rocky scenery as well as a thick growth of fruit and nut trees. The official said camping equipment and two backpacks apparently belonging to the Americans were found in the area and it seemed they were hiking above the waterfall when they accidentally crossed the border.

Check back for continuing updates.

Update 8-3-09 9:25 a.m.:
Swiss diplomats are hoping to meet in Tehran today with the Iranian foreign ministry to discuss the release of the Americans. Josh Fattal is said to be an environmentalist. His father was born in Iraq.  

Update 8-11-09: I see on the web that I have been tagged a "sloppy blogger." This Joshua Fattal does not work or contribute to The Jewish Week. The Jewish Week has accused me of not responding to an email they sent. Unfortunately, I did not receive their email. I just happened onto their title "A Fattal Error." My apologies to both Mr. Fattals, their families and The Jewish Week. According to this report:
He earned a degree in environmental economics and policy. He also taught high-school students in Berkeley and worked in New Hampshire.
He most recently worked and lived at Aprovecho Research Center in Cottage Grove, Ore. The nonprofit facility is located on a 40-acre ranch and is focused on sustainable living skills, sustainable forestry and organic gardening, its Web site states.
At Aprovecho, Fattal held a position as internship coordinator. He was a graduate of the program himself and traveled to small towns in Oregon and Guatemala to implement some of the sustainable living ideas taught at the center, according to a biography on the Web site of the International Honors Program, where he was a Trustees Fellow. It is unclear if he is still a fellow with the program.
While Fattal was at Aprovecho, he co-hosted a weekly radio show, "Rhythms and Resistance," on the center's community station.
Update 11-09-09:
Announced today that Shroud, Fattal and Bauer are accused of "espionage," and they will be put on trial in Iran.
It is not clear from his comments whether formal charges have been filed. In Iran's judicial system, the process of charging and trying suspects often takes place behind closed doors.
Update 12-14-09:
Shroud, Fattal and Bauer will be tried by Iran's judiciary but no timeline was given. The three Americans are still being "interrogated," and are held under suspicion of espionage.
Bauer and Shourd had been living in Damascus, Syria - he studying Arabic, she teaching English - and both had done freelance journalism or writing online. Friends have described them as passionate adventurers interested in the Middle East and human rights.

Fattal, who spent three years with a group dedicated to sustainable farming near Cottage Grove, Oregon, had been overseas since January as a teaching assistant with the International Honors Program.


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