Statement of Shon Meckfessel on Missing U.S. Hikers

New America Media, Commentary, Shon Meckfessel Posted: Aug 06, 2009

Editor’s Note: Three Americans, Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal, have been missing since July 31 after hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan and are reportedly being held by Iranian authorities. Bauer is a correspondent for New America Media. A fourth member of their party, Shon Mecfessel, did not join them that day and has now offered his statement on events, which is published below.

I'm writing this statement to help people understand what happened to my three friends, Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal, who went missing by the Iran/Iraq border. I have been close friends with Shane and Sarah for years, and recently met Josh, a longtime friend of Shane. Shane is a language student and freelance journalist; Sarah is an English teacher, and Josh arranges student exchange trips. All of us have done some writing about our travels, and all of us share a deep appreciation for Middle Eastern cultures.

In late July the four of us decided to travel from Damascus, Syria to Iraqi Kurdistan for a short vacation. Sarah had to return to work in a week. While going there might seem strange to Americans, the Kurdish territory is actually very beautiful and quite safe. Since the Kurds gained autonomy in 1992, no American has ever been harmed there. The city of Sulaimania is increasingly popular with tourists, and a friend of ours told us it was the most beautiful area he'd ever seen.

We arrived in Sulaimania the night of July 29 and stayed at the Hotel Miwan. Walking around town the next day, we asked a number of people--taxi drivers, hotel staff and people on the street--for good places to experience the mountainous terrain in the area. Every one of them told us to visit a place called Ahmed Awa. Not one of these people mentioned that Ahmed Awa was anywhere near the Iranian border. In fact, on the wall of our hotel there were three photos of tourists standing near the Ahmed Awa waterfall.

Ahmed Awa seemed the clear choice for appreciating the stunning natural beauty around Sulaimania, far from any sort of risk. However, it may have been unclear to the people who encouraged us to visit Ahmed Awa that we intended to go hiking in the area, rather than simply visiting the waterfall.

There is no Lonely Planet Iraqi Kurdistan, and Ahmed Awa was not on the map we'd printed out. My sense--wrongly as it turns out--was that Ahmed Awa lay northwest of Sulaimania, in the direction of Dokan Lake (and Dokan Resort), another scenic area we'd considered visiting during our trip through Kurdistan. On the evening of July 30, Josh, Shane and Sarah set out for Ahmed Awa with the plan to camp out. I stayed behind at our hotel because I was coming down with a cold and wanted a night to recuperate. We agreed to meet up the next day near Ahmed Awa. I purchased an Iraqi SIM card for my cell phone to make sure we could find each other the next day (providing the area had a signal, which very luckily it did).

I spoke with Shane twice that evening. I called him at around 8 PM and he told me they'd just been dropped off near a strip of restaurants in Ahmed Awa. A couple hours later he told me they had followed a trail up from the strip of restaurants to the waterfall, and were continuing on the same trail to camp in peace. On July 31, I woke up feeling better and decided to join my friends. At about 11:30 AM I called Shane. He told me the weather had been mild all night. That morning they had woken up early and resumed hiking along the same trail. Shane sounded very calm and content, happy to be in a beautiful environment, and made absolutely no mention of any risk whatsoever. I am absolutely certain that they had no knowledge of their proximity to the Iranian border or they would have never continued in that direction. Shane told me they were planning to turn around soon. He thought we could meet up near the waterfall.

I sent Shane two text messages, one at 12:50 PM and one at 1:22 PM, to which he did not respond. At 1:33 PM I received a call from Shane during which he told me that they were being taken into custody and that I should call the embassy.

I hope that people understand my friends' presence in the area for what it was: a simple and very regrettable mistake.

Related Articles:

The Propaganda Value of a Detained Journalist

Kurdish and Iranian Officials Meeting Over Fate of Detained Reporter

NAM Executive Editor on Shane Bauer

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User Comments

MICK on Aug 31, 2009 at 19:34:46 said:

I feel sorry for all the folks involved in this episode.
You have to blame your government foreign policys for this predicament.
It's a well known fact that your government through your congress has sancioned spy-ops and sabotarge programs into Iran and you have CIA on the ground in their country spying and doing whatever stuff the are doing there.
This is what Chaney is still saying today to you guys. You gotta have the best ways to get the truth out of people before it's tooo late.
Well if America tortures and jails INOCENT peoples till ther are proven guilty. Then what of Iran?
Hopefully the Iranians will not torture and rape them. Hope they don't waterbord them.
Or it would be bad if they sent them to Poland to be properly interogated.
The whole world is watching.
I feel sorry for the families involved.
I have children myself that travel.

sacha on Aug 11, 2009 at 06:42:05 said:

Shon i hope your friends are released soon, but what the hell man? i've heard of better preparation for a day hike in the Swiss Alps. as you say that Shane is a freelance journalist, one of the strictest rules to live by - because you are mostly on your own out there - is to be aware of your surroundings and plan your movements carefully. the Kurdish region of Iraq is safe-ER that the rest of Iraq yes.. but not totally safe. you sound like you thought that hiking in the eastern Iraqi Kuridstan mountains was a walk in the park. cmon..

Daniel Gerstle on Aug 06, 2009 at 23:01:31 said:

I very strongly support and reinforce Shon's defense for his colleagues accidentally nearing the Iraq-Iran border area. Last October while doing peacebuilding work, I spent several weeks in Iraqi Kurdistan, including time in Suleymaniya as well as trips to Halabja and Soran which are located very close to the border with Iran. Kurdish entrepreneurs in the area are very eager to assure foreigners that it is safe. In Suly, it is safer than the rest of Iraq, save Dahuk. But these entrepreneuers are not only overconfident but they are willing to take risks when they encourage foreigners to hire them as driver/guides on country hikes. It is very, very plausible that this was a complete accident. Iran should consider not only that the incident was accidental but also the fact that there is nothing for foreigners to learn about Iran's security from that border area anyway. Iran should let the three go free as soon as possible.




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