(MUSCAT, Oman) -- Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, the two U.S. hikers imprisoned in Iran for the past two years, sprinted to freedom Wednesday down the steps of a Royal Omani Air Force jet onto a tarmac in Muscat, Oman.
Looking healthy and upbeat, they were greeted by family and friends in an emotional scrum of smiles, hugs and tears, and a long kiss between Bauer and his fiancee, Sarah Shourd, a fellow American prisoner in Iran until one year ago this week.
"We are so happy we are free and so relieved we are free," Fattal, detained in Iran since 2009, told reporters upon arriving. "Our deepest gratitude to his majesty [Omani King] Sultan Qaboos [bin Said Al Said] for obtaining our release. We are sincerely grateful to the government of Oman for hosting us and our families."
Fattal, Bauer and Shourd were arrested two years ago while hiking along Iran's unmarked border with Iraq. They were accused of spying, and last month Fattal and Bauer were sentenced to eight years in prison.
"Two years in prison is too long," Bauer told reporters, "and we sincerely hope for the freedom of other political prisoners and other unjustly imprisoned people in America and Iran."
The hikers' families have described the freeing of Bauer and Fattal as "the best day of our lives."
President Obama also hailed the development.
"I welcome the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal from detention in Iran and am very pleased that they are being reunited with their loved ones," Obama said in a written statement. "The tireless advocacy of their families over these two years has won my admiration, and is now coming to an end with Josh and Shane back in their arms. All Americans join their families and friends in celebrating their long-awaited return home."
The men's release ends two years of diplomatic wrangling and, more recently, weeks of political infighting, as Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country's judiciary argued about freeing the Americans.
Bauer and Fattal were released after an Iranian judge who had twice delayed their release signed an order Wednesday to free the men following deposits of $500,000 bail each.
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