(A summary of the crisis is available on the Mainstream Media Archive )
Why would Iran want to hold six Americans hostage?
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iranian state television have made their intentions clear in the past 48 hours. On Thursday, the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted an unnamed “security source” who said that the detained hikers – Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal – were in Iran’s southern city of Shiraz with the goal of “destroying the united front between Iran and the United States,” according to an unnamed Iranian military official quoted by Fars. It wasn’t clear whether the men were actually in Shiraz, but that is the first time in the five years of the affair that Tehran has publicly acknowledged the fact that the detained Americans were in Iran.
FarsNews.com said that Iran was able to “track down” the Americans “in a lighthearted manner” – apparently implying that the U.S. had given them up for treatment and gain for the Iranian government.
That evening, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself appeared on state television and accused the three of “espionage” and said Iran had shown them to Iraqi and Afghan government officials in order to “ask their assistance in obtaining a message from America.” (The men were later charged with espionage by Iranian authorities.)
On Friday, it appeared that the Americans were being held in Sistan-Baluchistan Province, an archipelago of border regions west of Iran’s southern cities. The scene was portrayed as a detaining motorcyclist shooting the three men. Photos showed the three sitting outside, their shoes and equipment found scattered nearby.
Click here to see photos of the hikers as they were detained.
What was the reaction in Iran to the hostages?
The reaction of Iran’s military and pro-government media, which long viewed the Americans with suspicion and distrust, was immediate and strong. The Revolutionary Guard and other high-ranking Iranian officials then moved quickly to publicly glorify the captors, in contrast to the more restrained, subdued responses of Iranian political activists and the state media to events in Syria in recent weeks.
First, Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, praised his troops, saying that their action was “well-planned and executed.” Suleimani vowed to find those who may have assisted the Americans’ capture, without identifying further.
President Ahmadinejad also rushed to Iran’s side, tweeting, “Our close relations with Turkey, having good relations with Sudan are a sign for the Islamic world that we are standing against ill-intentioned non-Persians.” The Gulf Cooperation Council – a Saudi-led organization that includes states across the Gulf – described Iran’s treatment of the three Americans as “absolutely unacceptable.”
But other Iranian politicians such as the moderate Dr. Ali Larijani, the head of the judiciary, and Ali Akbar Velayati, a top advisor to the president, attempted to cast blame away from Tehran and towards Washington. Velayati denounced what he called the “irresponsible behavior” of the U.S. government, suggesting the detainees could have fled from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
By the morning, calls were being received in the United States for Tehran to either release the hikers or negotiate a possible release from the courts.
What was the response in the U.S.?
President Obama weighed in Friday afternoon, condemning what he described as the detention of “three innocent Americans,” while sending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Oman to seek their release.
Clinton also commented on the incident during an Easter Egg Roll earlier on Friday.
What is Iran’s reaction?
The hard-line Iranian regime has responded with condemnation and recrimination. The state-owned Press TV described the Americans as traitors, quoteings Ahmadinejad as saying, “They want to destroy what Iran has. Don’t let them destroy Iran. The three of them in Islamic jails must be freed as soon as possible.” Ahmadinejad also called the two American hikers “foolish” for wanting to “disrupt the revolution” and “undermine the country’s prestige.”
The Iranian state media then accused the U.S. and its allies of working to “overthrow Iran’s government and dominate the country.” Friday’s Islamic Republic News Agency reported that reformist political prisoners who had previously been imprisoned had gone on hunger strike in a protest.
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