Man detained in Iran; Montco kin await word

The Elkins Park home of the parents of Josh Fattal, who was detained in Iran after crossing the border from Iraq.
The Elkins Park home of the parents of Josh Fattal, who was detained in Iran after crossing the border from Iraq.
Posted: August 03, 2009

A Cheltenham High School graduate with passionate commitment to the environment and human rights was one of three U.S citizens detained Friday in Iran by authorities.

Josh Fattal, a Elkins Park native who recently resided in Oregon, and two fellow hikers crossed the border from the Kurdistan region of Iraq, according to the Kurdish regional government and Iranian media.

Fattal's parents, Laura and Jacob Fattal, declined to comment about their 27-year-old son other than to release a prepared statement.

"My husband and I are only concerned about the health and welfare of Josh, Shane and Sara," Laura Fattal said from the front door of their Elkins Park home.

The other detained Americans have been identified as Shane Bower and Sara Short by the New York Times.

The three Americans had traveled with a companion, identified by various media outlets as Shon Meckfessel, who had stayed behind in Sulaymaniya when the hikers headed to Ahmed Awa, a mountanous area popular with tourists near the Iranian border. About 1 p.m. Friday, the trio called Meckfessel and told him they wandered into Iran by mistake and were surrounded by armed troops.

Fattal is no stranger to travel. The Boston-born adventurer headed to the University of California at Berkeley after he graduated from Cheltenham High School in 2000. He earned a degree in environmental economics and policy. He also taught high-school students in Berkeley and worked in New Hampshire.

He most recently worked and lived at Aprovecho Research Center in Cottage Grove, Ore. The nonprofit facility is located on a 40-acre ranch and is focused on sustainable living skills, sustainable forestry and organic gardening, its Web site states.

At Aprovecho, Fattal held a position as internship coordinator. He was a graduate of the program himself and traveled to small towns in Oregon and Guatemala to implement some of the sustainable living ideas taught at the center, according to a biography on the Web site of the International Honors Program, where he was a Trustees Fellow. It is unclear if he is still a fellow with the program.

While Fattal was at Aprovecho, he co-hosted a weekly radio show, "Rhythms and Resistance," on the center's community station.

A former co-worker at Aprovecho told the Daily News that Fattal worked at Aprovecho for three years until recently. "We hope that they're safe and returned home," said the unidentified woman, who declined to answer further questions before hanging up.

He is believed to have left the research center about a month ago and told a friend he was planning to travel to India, according to the Register-Guard newspaper in Eugene, Ore.

Fattal posted an entry on his Facebook page July 17, the paper said, telling his friends that he was in the Middle East. He was on his way to Damascus and other locales, according to his Facebook page, as reported by the Register-Guard.

"i know my hosts are planning a trip in the coming weeks, for a week or so, i think to Kurdistan . . . ," his post said, according to the paper.

Last Wednesday, he appeared to be reflective in his Facebook comments.

Fattal said he was "getting in touch with my roots between the tigres and euphrates valleys . . ." and "Iraq is on my mind," according to the newspaper.

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