After more than two years in an Iranian prison on charges of espionage after allegedly hiking over the invisible border between Iraq and Iran, Montgomery County native Josh Fattal and his friend Shane Bauer were released Wednesday.
Wednesday afternoon EST Fattal and Bauer landed in Oman where their families were waiting and were finally reunited. (WATCH MSNBC video here)
“We are so happy to be free,” Fattal said after the reunion.
Fattal’s childhood friend Lonn Selbst was relieved that his friend was coming home.
“It was just a matter of when -- I knew at some point he would have to be home and I always hoped sooner rather than later.”
The State Department is saying that both Fattal and Minnesota native Bauer have been released to the Oman Envoy after a $1 million bail-for-freedom deal was approved overnight. The Oman government reportedly paid the bail.
“It's the answer to prayers,” said Jerry Weissman, 68, a lawyer who lives three doors down from the Fattals in Elkins Park. “All of our hearts have been in this for them. Thank God it's over.”
There was no answer Wednesday at the Fattal home, where pictures of the hikers and a sign reading “Free Josh and Shane” adorned the mailbox. Weissman said he has been inspired by how hard Fattal's mother, Laura, and brother, Alex, worked every day trying to secure his release.
The family was in Oman to greet Josh Fattal on Wednesday, according to a statement released by all three families through a spokeswoman.
“Today can only be described as the best day of our lives,” the statement said. “We now all want nothing more than to wrap Shane and Josh in our arms, catch up on two lost years and make a new beginning, for them and for all of us.”
The Gulf Nation of Oman sent a private plane to Iran Sept. 14, with the purpose of making a deal with the Iranians. Oman has close ties with both Tehran and Washington, and plays a strategic role in the region by sharing control with Iran of the Strait of Hormouz at the mouth of the Gulf.
A similar scenario occurred a year ago when American Sarah Shourd, who was hiking and also imprisoned with Fattal and Bauer, was released to the U.S. on bail via Oman’s sultan. Shourd refused to return to Iran in August when the trial finally happened.
Though both Fattal and Bauer, both 29 years old, were sentenced last month to three years each for illegal entry into Iran and five years each for spying for the United States, they were still released on bail Thursday.
Strangely enough, the first person to hint that the two Americans would be released was the president of Iran in an interview with NBC’s Ann Curry for the Today Show that aired last Tuesday.
Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Curry that the Americans could be freed “in a couple of days.” He described the bail offer as a “humanitarian gesture” and repeated complaints about attention for Iranians held in U.S. prisons.
Fattal and Bauer have repeatedly denied the charges. Shourd's case remains open.
Fan, follow and download: Get the latest from NBCPhiladelphia.com anytime, anywhere. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, our mobile site and NBC Philadelphia. Sign up for our breaking news newsletter. And, get breaking news delivered right to your mobile phone -- just text PHIBREAKING to 639710 to sign up. (Message and data rates may apply.)