September 14, 2010 / 11:56 AM / 9 years ago

U.S. woman leaves Iran after over a year in jail

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Sarah Shourd, one of three Americans held in Iran for more than a year on suspicion of spying, left the country on Tuesday after she was released on bail.

U.S. citizen Sarah Shourd walks to a plane at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport September 14, 2010. REUTERS/Iranian Press TV via Reuters TV

Shourd arrived in the Gulf Arab state of Oman on Tuesday night on a flight from Tehran and was met by her mother and uncle, a witness at Muscat airport told Reuters. Shourd told journalists that she was “fine.”

Iran’s Press TV aired footage of Shourd before departure from Tehran, thanking President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials “for this humanitarian gesture” in releasing her. “I am very grateful and humbled by this moment,” she added.

Shourd, 31, was detained near the Islamic Republic’s border with Iraq in late July 2009 along with two male companions, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. Their families say the three were on a mountain hike in northern Iraq at the time.

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed Shourd’s release and called for the others to be freed too, saying they had committed no crime. “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,” Obama said.

Shourd left Iran a few hours after being released on bail while her fiance Bauer remained under detention. Bauer’s mother said in May that his son proposed on January 6 to Shourd in the yard of Evin prison, where they were being jailed.

The Tehran prosecutor-general, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, told Iranian state television that the detention decree of Bauer and Fattal had been extended for two more months.

CALL FOR RELEASE OF ALL THREE

“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 of the three Americans said in a statement.

Officials said last week Shourd would be freed on Saturday, but Iran’s judiciary unexpectedly blocked her release at the last minute, saying the legal process had not been completed.

The halt highlighted a deepening rift among Iran’s leadership which has emerged since Ahmadinejad’s re-election last year, analysts said. The president had personally intervened to get Shourd released, Iranian media said earlier.

The judiciary chief is a brother of parliament speaker Ali Larijani, one of Ahmadinejad’s political rivals, who lost to him in a 2005 presidential vote. Larijani is a staunch critic of the president’s economic and foreign policies.

The Tehran prosecutor told state television Shourd had been released on $500,000 bail and was free to leave the country. He said earlier she would still have to attend a trial at a Revolutionary court, which reviews security-related cases.

A Reuters correspondent said Shourd was escorted to the Tehran airport by Swiss officials who represent U.S. interests in the absence of diplomatic ties with Washington.

Slideshow (4 Images)

Shourd’s family say she has been denied treatment for health problems, including a breast lump and precancerous cervical cells.

Under Iran’s Islamic law, espionage can be punishable by execution. Washington rejects the spying allegations.

The case of three Americans has further complicated relations between Tehran and Washington already fraught over Iran’s disputed nuclear activities.

Additional reporting by Raissa Kosolowsky in Dubai; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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