In just a few dizzying hours, American Sarah Shourd exchanged a cell in Tehran's Evin Prison for a private jet crossing the Persian Gulf on Tuesday, after an apparent diplomatic deal to cover a $500,000 bail and secure a release that seemed in jeopardy from the start.
Shourd was met by her mother and U.S. diplomats at a royal airfield in the capital of Oman, which U.S. officials say played a critical role in organizing the bail payment and assuring it did not violate American economic sanctions on Iran
Shourd stepped off the private Omani jet and into the arms of her mother in their first embrace since a brief visit in May overseen by Iranian authorities -- and her first day of freedom in more than 13 months. Shourd smiled broadly as they strolled arm-in-arm through the heat of the late summer night along the Gulf of Oman.
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After she landed at the airport in Oman, Sarah issued the following statement:
I've been waiting for this moment for a really long time and I am extremely grateful to be standing here today. I want to begin by giving my deepest thanks to the sultan of Oman, Qaboos -- Sultan Qaboss. I am so grateful for everything that Oman has done, and my dear friend, Salem Ismaili. I'm also very grateful to him on behalf of myseslf and my family. If anything, I'm standing here today because of the efforts of many people and many governments. I wanted to thank President Ahmadenijad and the Iranian officials, the religious figures, the Ayatollah Khameini, everyone who's been a part of making this moment happen for me and for my family and I want to say that today is the day that my work begins and all of my efforts starting today are going to go into helping the procure the same freedom for my fiancee, Sean Bauer and for my friend, Josh Fattel because I can't enjoy my freedom without them. They should be standing here with me. They don't deserve in prison a minute longer. I would just like to end with that. Thank you.
The whirlwind departure of the 32-year-old Shourd brought little change for two other Americans -- her fiance Shane Bauer and friend Josh Fattal -- who remained behind bars while authorities moved toward possible trials on spy charges that could bring up to 10 years in prison if they are convicted.
The three were detained along the Iraq border in July 2009. Their families say they 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.
"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," said a statement by the three families.
The families issued the following statement regarding the release of Sarah Shourd:
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.
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. Shane, Sarah and Josh are all innocent. They were traveling together, and were arrested together. We're certain that Shane and Josh share our great happiness that Sarah is finally coming home.
They deserve to come home too. Iran has no grounds to deprive them of their liberty a moment longer. We extend our deepest gratitude to the countless people around the world - friends, supporters and many persons of goodwill - who have worked so hard for so long to try to obtain the release of Shane, Sarah and Josh. The work is not over and, as we prepare to welcome Sarah home, we will not rest until Shane and Josh are home too.
Statement from Nora Shourd, Sarah's mother:
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. 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. Sarah is incredibly strong but without Shane and Josh there to support her, and their brief daily meetings in the yard of Evin Prison, I am not sure how she would have coped. I can only imagine how bittersweet her freedom must be for her, leaving Shane and Josh behind. I owe it to all of them, to Sarah, Shane and Josh, to keep pressing until they are all home free. I urgently appeal to Iran not to delay granting Shane and Josh's families the same joy and relief that I now have in knowing Sarah is finally free.