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US woman accused of being a spy leaves Iran

A US woman released by Iran after more than a year in prison flew out of the country last night to the nearby Gulf nation of Oman to be reunited with her mother.

However, Iranian authorities said they were not considering the immediate release of the two Americans arrested with 32-year-old Sarah Shourd.

Iran has charged all three with spying, though their families say they were innocent hikers arrested in a scenic mountain area along Iran's border with Iraq.

The families of Ms Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal greeted the news of her release with mixed emotions.

“All of our families are relieved and overjoyed that Sarah has at last been released, but we are also heartbroken that Shane and Josh are still being denied their freedom for no just cause,” they said in a statement. Ms Shourd's mother Nora said she had hoped and prayed for her 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.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Ms Shourd was being released on compassionate grounds because of health reasons.

Her mother says she has serious medical problems, including a breast lump and precancerous cervical cells.

“We applaud the Iranian authorities for showing compassion in Sarah's case and again call on them to do the only right thing and release Shane and Josh immediately,” the families' statement added.

A US official confirmed Ms Shourd's flight had left Iran for Oman.

Tehran's chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi said a $500,000 (£324,000) bail had been paid to Iran's Bank Melli in Muscat, Oman, but it was not immediately clear who paid it.

A US official said neither the American government nor the families of the hikers had paid the bail, but could not say who else might have paid it. The release followed days of conflicting statements by Iranian authorities on whether she would be let go.

The decision also became mired in internal political feuds among Iran's leadership and questions over whether the family could raise the bail money and if it did, whether the payment would violate sanctions against Iran.

Shortly after Iranian state media announced Ms Shourd's release, the country's hardline judiciary said the “pre-trial detention” of Mr Bauer and Mr Fattal had been extended for two more months.

Iran indicted the trio on spy-related charges on Sunday and the prosecutor's statement suggested the men would face trials while proceedings against Ms Shourd could be held in absentia.

Belfast Telegraph


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