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Associated Press, Published September 13 2010

Iran bail decision on American hiker stirs backlash

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's internal battles over the handling of American detainee Sarah Shourd flared again Monday as the mouthpiece of the powerful Revolutionary Guard led the backlash against a decision to free her on $500,000 bail.

The criticism by Guard-linked Fars news agency and others — including one lawmaker calling it a "bonus for Quran burners" in the United States — show the judiciary's offer to release Shourd on health grounds had failed to quiet the political tempest among Iran's conservative factions.

The political sniping also shows the country's simmering political rivalries and the various groups vying for greater slices of power since last year's disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad, who first tried to shepherd the release of Shourd last week, was rebuked by the courts who insisted that any release had to be on their terms.

Now Ahmadinejad's supporters, led by the Revolutionary Guard, are firing back against the judiciary's decision.

Also in the mix are some conservative lawmakers objecting to any plans at freeing Shourd, who was detained along the Iraqi border in July 2009 along with two American friends.

Iranian authorities say they have issued indictments on spy-related charges. That could mean trials for the two American men and proceedings in absentia for Shourd if she is freed.

Her attorney, Masoud Shafiei, told The Associated Press that he had no update on Monday on the status of efforts to pay the bail.

He said he has been in contact with Shourd's family and the Swiss Embassy, which handles U.S. affairs in Iran because there are no diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran. On Sunday, he said he hoped she could be freed in "two or three" days.

It's unclear whether any internal objections could complicate Shourd's expected release. But there was no criticism of the decision in Iranian newspapers, suggesting the court's move had the backing of the ruling theocracy including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Revolutionary Guards, however, made their displeasure known through a rare commentary in Fars, which is close to the elite military group.

"If they were spies — as the Intelligence Ministry has said — why should they received clemency and escape Islamic justice?" said the dispatch.

The detainees' families say they were hiking in Iraq's scenic north when they were detained on July 31, 2009, and that if they crossed the border, they did so unwittingly.

The commentary went on to say that allowing Shourd to "jump out" of detention will have "no result except discrediting security and intelligence agencies as well as the judiciary."

It also denounced the timing. Fars said the decision came "when the worst insults to Islamic sanctities are flourishing in the U.S." — an apparent reference to anti-Muslim rallies and the canceled plans by a Florida pastor to burn copies of the Quran.

Fars even went to an outspoken critic of Ahmadinejad to further bash the decision.

Conservative lawmaker Ahmad Tavakkoli called the possible release a "bonus for Quran burners" and a reward for the United States after it pressed for tighter sanctions over Iran's nuclear program.

Another conservative website Tabnak also criticized the decision. The site is close to Mohsen Rezaei, a former Revolutionary Guard commander who ran against Ahmadinejad last year.


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.