Reporting from Beirut and Tehran
Two Iranians arrested by U.S. forces in neighboring Iraq were released Friday, a day after Iran allowed three young Americans detained in the Islamic Republic since last July to meet with their visiting mothers.
Iraqi officials handed the detainees to Iran’s embassy in Baghdad this morning, and they will leave for Iran as soon as possible, a report on the website of state-owned English-language Press TV said.
The moves are the latest hints of behind-the-scenes deal-making between Iran and the West over the fate of detainees.
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Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, told Iranian state radio that U.S. servicemen arrested and jailed Ahmad Barazandeh seven years ago and Ali Abdollahi three years ago “on the basis of groundless accusations” and for traveling without passports.
Kazemi-Qomi described both Iranians as “pilgrims” who had traveled to Iraq to visit Shiite Muslim holy sites. Press TV said the two men were arrested in Najaf and Samarra, both hosts to important Shiite religious sites.
On Thursday, Iranian officials allowed maternal visits for Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd, three Americans arrested last year after allegedly crossing illegally into Iran from Iraqi Kurdistan. They are being held in Tehran’s Evin Prison.