Christian Leaders Among Delegation Returning From Iran Seeking US Hikers' Release

Muslim Americans and Christian leaders are scheduled to return to Washington as Iran’s top government and clerical officials indicated to them that two American hikers being held in the country would be released.

The national executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Nihad Awad has told CNN that the religious delegation is working to build a mutual understanding with the Iranian leadership in order to free the two men.

"Our goal has been to foster interfaith ties, build a system of understanding and ask the Iranian leadership to show compassion and mercy for the American hikers by allowing them to come home," said Awad.

The report from CNN comes after a six-day visit to Iran of the religious delegation who went there in an attempt to release the hikers. The American delegation included Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, the Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, and Interim Dean of Washington National Cathedral, and former North Carolina State Sen. Larry Shaw, said Awad.

"We can only hope the two men are freed soon on humanitarian grounds and that our visit fosters a better dialogue between Iranian and American leaders of faith," said Awad.

The delegation traveled to Tehran at the invitation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. According to CAIR, the visit was positive, as Iranian authorities considered the delegation's efforts helpful.

"The delegation was informed by the Iranian authorities that its work prior to this trip and during its current stay in Iran was very helpful and important in the decision to release the hikers," said the CAIR in a statement released on Sunday.

Meetings during the visit to discuss the release were held with Iranian religious scholars and leaders in the holy city of Qom and another meeting took place on Saturday with Ahmadinejad.

Appeals for the hikers’ release started with a series of personal letters addressed to Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders in September 2010, according to CAIR Spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.

In May a group of prominent Muslim American along with interfaith leaders held a news conference in Washington to publicly ask the release of the two 29-year-old men.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested along the Iraq-Iran border in July 2009. A third American, Sarah Shourd, was arrested with them last September, but was released after a payment and similar tussle between the president and his rivals in the judiciary.

Bauer and Fattal were sentenced last month to three years each for illegally entering into Iran, and five years for spying for the United States. Their families allege they were just hiking in northern Iraq's Kurdish region when they accidently crossed the border into Iran.

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