US & Canada

Freed US hiker Sarah Shourd arrives in Oman

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Media captionSarah Shourd, speaking on Iran's Press TV: "I feel humbled and grateful"

A US woman jailed for more than a year in Iran on spying charges has arrived in Oman after being freed on bail.

Sarah Shourd was arrested near Iran's border with Iraq on 31 July 2009, along with Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal.

Ms Shourd, who was met in Oman by her mother, said she was humbled by Iran's "humanitarian gesture" in freeing her.

Tehran's chief prosecutor said at the weekend that Ms Shourd would be released when $500,000 (£325,000) bail was paid, and could leave the country.

Ms Shourd, 32, was embraced by her mother and greeted by US diplomats after arriving by private jet in the capital of Oman during her first day of freedom in more than 13 months.

US officials say the country played a vital role in organising Ms Shourd's bail payment and ensuring it did not violate American economic sanctions on Iran.

Before seeing her daughter, Ms Shourd's mother, Nora, issued a statement that said: "I've hoped and prayed for this moment for 410 days and I cannot wait to wrap Sarah in my arms and hold her close when we are finally together again."

The families of the three hikers - who are all Americans - say the three crossed the poorly-demarcated border by mistake while hiking in the mountainous northern Iraqi region of Khormal.

Officials in Tehran said they had "suspicious aims" and that they intended to put them on trial for espionage.

Mr Bauer, who is Ms Shourd's fiance, and Mr Fattal are still being held at Evin prison and face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Serious health problems

Image caption Ms Shourd was greeted by her mother, Nora, and US diplomats at a royal airfield in Oman

Speaking at Tehran's airport shortly before she flew out of the country, Ms Shourd told Iran's English-language Press TV she wanted to thank all involved in "this humanitarian gesture".

"I'm grateful and I'm very humbled by this moment," she added.

US officials have said the three - all graduates of the University of California, Berkeley - are completely innocent.

A statement issued by the families involved said: "All of our families are relieved and overjoyed that Sarah has at last been released, but we're also heartbroken that Shane and Josh are still being denied their freedom for no just cause - they deserve to come home, too."

US President Barack Obama welcomed the release but called on Iran to free the other two hikers.

"We remain hopeful that Iran will demonstrate renewed compassion by ensuring the return of Shane, Josh and all the other missing or detained Americans in Iran," Mr Obama said.

Bail money

Image caption Sarah Shourd had been detained since last July along with Shane Bauer (left) and Joshua Fattal

News of Ms Shourd's release comes days after Tehran chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi said he had objected to a plan announced by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to release Ms Shourd at the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan because legal procedures had "not been completed".

The prosecutor told Iran's Press TV on Tuesday that the bail money had been paid into an Iranian bank in Oman.

But it had been suggested that Ms Shourd's family was having trouble raising the funds, and it has not been confirmed whether the full amount of $500,000 has been deposited.

The BBC's Middle East correspondent, Jon Leyne, says a number of people facing trial in Iran have taken the option of leaving the country and forfeiting their bail, rather than risk facing a long prison term.

After seeing her in May, Ms Shourd's mother said she was being denied treatment for serious health problems, including a lump in her breast and precancerous cervical cells.

The three friends were all said to be undernourished and depressed after more than a year in virtual solitary confinement.

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