Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Missing Americans' Last Stop: Ahmed Awa

By Julie Adnan
  • Mountain scenery near Ahmed Awa.
    Mountain scenery near Ahmed Awa.
  • The three Americans hiked a narrow trail up a steep mountain range above Ahmed Awa that is not accessible by vehicle, local officials said. The Iranian border lies on the other side of the mountain.
    The three Americans hiked a narrow trail up a steep mountain range above Ahmed Awa that is not accessible by vehicle, local officials said. The Iranian border lies on the other side of the mountain.
  • An unpaved one-km road from Ahmed Awa leads to a tiny border village known for its waterfall and swimming hole.
    An unpaved one-km road from Ahmed Awa leads to a tiny border village known for its waterfall and swimming hole.
  • Amanj Sadiq, 27, says the Americans visited the teashop he runs with his relatives near a bridge to the waterfall. They recalled that Shourd was conservatively dressed and spoke broken Arabic.
    Amanj Sadiq, 27, says the Americans visited the teashop he runs with his relatives near a bridge to the waterfall. They recalled that Shourd was conservatively dressed and spoke broken Arabic.
  • The Americans sipped tea on this bridge just after 10pm the night before they were reported missing.
    The Americans sipped tea on this bridge just after 10pm the night before they were reported missing.
  • Visitors enjoy a refreshing dip in a pool below the waterfall. Iraqi Arab and Kurdish tourists visit Ahmed Awa in summer to escape Iraq's sweltering heat.
    Visitors enjoy a refreshing dip in a pool below the waterfall. Iraqi Arab and Kurdish tourists visit Ahmed Awa in summer to escape Iraq's sweltering heat.
  • Haji Karim, (right) who lives in the village on the outskirts of Ahmed Awa, says he worried that war could break out along the border between Iran and the United States after the Americans disappeared, affecting tourism. US and Kurdish military forces searched the area the night after the incident, shaking the people of the normally quiet village.
    Haji Karim, (right) who lives in the village on the outskirts of Ahmed Awa, says he worried that war could break out along the border between Iran and the United States after the Americans disappeared, affecting tourism. US and Kurdish military forces searched the area the night after the incident, shaking the people of the normally quiet village.
  • Ahmed Awa and the nearby town of Halabja, which was devastated by a chemical attack in 1988, are famous for their pomegranates. A stream runs through the area, creating a lush environment near the bottom of the dry, barren mountain. Local people say they were surprised that the Americans would hike beyond the area’s last water source.
    Ahmed Awa and the nearby town of Halabja, which was devastated by a chemical attack in 1988, are famous for their pomegranates. A stream runs through the area, creating a lush environment near the bottom of the dry, barren mountain. Local people say they were surprised that the Americans would hike beyond the area’s last water source.

Three Americans reported to have been held by Iran for illegally crossing into Iranian territory late last month were last seen near Ahmed Awa, a mountainous village in Iraqi Kurdistan near the Iranian border. The Americans, Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 30, and Joshua Fattal, 27, were arrested by Iranian border security for illegally crossing into Iranian territory on July 31, US media quoted Iranian broadcasters as saying.

Associated Press quoted a member of the Iranian parliament as saying the authorities were considering trying them on a charge of spying.

Ahmed Awa residents were surprised that Americans would hike up the mountain without a guide, saying the path is unclear and landmines remain a risk. (See the full story: Witnesses Say US Group Hiked Far From Tourist Areas.)

Ahmed Awa attracts summer visitors but has little tourist infrastructure. The prime attraction is a waterfall on the outskirts of town.

While border patrols have not been beefed up in this area since the Americans went missing, security forces are cautioning individuals not to venture too far outside of tourist areas.

Kurdish security forces sent two police escorts with Julie Adnan when she photographed the Ahmed Awa area for IWPR.

Police stopped Adnan from venturing toward the waterfall, saying they did not want her to risk arrest by Iranian forces. The waterfall, which is several kilometres from the border, remains open to the public.