Freed hiker Josh Fattal is Jewish, has Israeli family

By Jennifer Lipman, September 27, 2011

The Israeli family of one of the American hikers who was freed after 781 days in captivity in Iran has expressed relief at his release.

Josh Fattal, who turned 29 while in an Iranian jail, was back home in Philadelphia this week for the first time in more than two years.

He was arrested in 2009 by Iranian officials when he was hiking with two friends along an unmarked border with Iraq. The trio were accused of spying and sent to prison. Mr Fattal and Shane Bauer were released last week after Oman posted bail deposits of $1m, while Sarah Shourd was freed a year ago.

It has since emerged that Mr Fattal is Jewish and his Iraqi-born father used to live in Israel. Mr Fattal has also visited the Jewish state on a number of occasions, including not long before he departed on holiday with Mr Bauer and Ms Shourd.

It is thought that the family attempted to keep this out of the public eye during Mr Fattal's captivity, so as not to jeopardise efforts to bring him home.

Speaking this week, Mr Fattal's father Jacob told Ynet that his son's return was "the best gift we could have received for Rosh Hashanah". His aunt, who lives in Israel, said the family had been going "crazy" in his absence.

Jacob Fattal, who moved to Israel in 1951 and served in the IDF, also said he planned to contact the parents of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

He told Ha'aretz: "I wanted very much to call her [Gilad's mother] and encourage her, tell her my heart is with her. I stopped myself because we were making a special effort not to make a big deal of it. Now I can talk to her."

Last updated: 6:56pm, September 27 2011