SULAIMANIYA, Iraq (Reuters) - A senior Kurdish security official has said that three tourists believed to be Americans who disappeared close to northern Iraq's border with Iran had entered Iranian territory and been arrested.
The tourists had arrived in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya, 260 kilometers northeast of Baghdad, from Irbil, the capital of Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region, on July 29.
"The Kurdish security authorities are certain that American tourists entered Iran and were arrested there," Qadr Hamajan, a senior security official in Sulaimaniya, told Reuters.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry, responding to reports of their arrest, said "the issue of their arrests is under investigation," without giving details, while the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad said it had no information.
But Iran's al-Alam television station reported that three American tourists were arrested near the border of Iraq after entering Iran.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Megan Mattson said officials are "using all available means to determine the facts in this case." She continued: "The safety and security of American citizens remains the U.S. government's top priority. We take all detention cases very seriously."
A U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad who declined to be named said: "We are aware of the reports and we are investigating.... We are using all available means to determine the facts of this case."
On July 30, three out of four of the group went on to the Ahmed Awa tourist resort, known for its waterfalls, east of Sulaimaniya near the Iranian border. The fourth member of the group was ill and remained in Sulaimaniya.
One of the group was believed to be an Arabic speaker, and a police colonel said the group had no bodyguards and no interpreter and were last seen at about 11 p.m. on July 30 at the resort.
There is no clear border marker between Iran and Iraq at Ahmed Awa.