Man trekking to World Cup missing in Iran



A Spanish man who was documenting his bold journey by foot from Madrid to Doha for the 2022 FIFA World Cup has not been heard from since crossing into Iran three weeks in the past, his household mentioned Monday, stirring fears about his destiny in a rustic convulsed by mass unrest.

The skilled trekker, former paratrooper and fervent soccer fan, 41-year-old Santiago Sanchez, was final seen in Iraq after climbing by means of 15 international locations and extensively sharing his journey on a well-liked Instagram account over the past 9 months. But his exuberant posts stopped out of the blue on Oct. 1, the day he entered Iran from the nation’s unstable northwestern border.

Sanchez’s household says his every day WhatsApp updates stopped that day as nicely. Weeks later, they worry the worst.

“We are deeply anxious, we will not cease crying, my husband and I,” his mom, Celia Cogedor, advised The Associated Press.

Sanchez’s dad and mom have reported him as missing to Spain’s nationwide police and the Foreign Ministry.

But Spanish authorities say they don’t have any details about his whereabouts, including that the Spanish ambassador to Tehran was dealing with the matter.

Calls to the Iranian Foreign Ministry looking for remark weren’t instantly returned on Monday.

Sanchez’s reported disappearance in Iran — his final cease earlier than reaching Qatar for the World Cup — comes as protesters stand up throughout the Islamic Republic in the most important antigovernment motion in over a decade. The demonstrations erupted on Sept. 16 over the loss of life of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old girl taken into custody by Iran’s morality police for allegedly not adhering to the nation’s strict Islamic costume code.

Tehran has violently cracked down and blamed international enemies and Kurdish teams in Iraq for fomenting the unrest, with out providing proof. The Iranian Intelligence Ministry mentioned authorities had arrested 9 foreigners, largely Europeans, over their alleged hyperlinks to the protests final month. Westerners and twin nationals have progressively change into pawns in Iran’s inner political struggles and in tensions between Tehran and Western capitals, analysts say, with at the least a dozen twin nationals arrested in current years on disputed spying fees.

Sanchez arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan in late September, after trekking hundreds of kilometres (miles) carrying a small suitcase in a wheeled cart, full of little greater than a tent, water purification tablets and a fuel range for his 11 months on the highway. He mentioned he wished to find out how others lived by dwelling amongst them earlier than reaching Qatar, the primary World Cup host nation in the Arab world, in time for Spain’s first match on Nov. 23.

“The thought of the journey is to encourage and encourage different individuals to present that they’ll go very far with little or no,” he advised the AP from Sulaymaniyah, a Kurdish metropolis in northeastern Iraq. “You can go a good distance strolling.”

The day earlier than he disappeared, Sanchez had breakfast with a information in Sulaymaniyah. The information, who spoke on situation of anonymity for worry of reprisals, mentioned he tried to warn Sanchez in regards to the harmful political scenario in Iran as they parted methods.

Protests in Iran’s Kurdish area after Amini’s loss of life kindled the nationwide unrest nonetheless roiling Iran. In response, Iranian forces have unleashed drone and artillery assaults focusing on Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq.

But Sanchez was undeterred and assured, the information mentioned.

“He did not look nervous in any respect. He advised me, ‘I sorted out every thing, don’t fret,”‘ he mentioned. They communicated by means of Google Translate, as Sanchez solely speaks Spanish.

Sanchez, the information added, deliberate to meet an Iranian household in the Kurdish city of Marivan — a scene of current antigovernment protests. The household, delighted by Sanchez’s Instagram posts, had reached out and provided to host him.

After Sanchez crossed the border on Oct. 1, his messages turned sparse and cryptic, the information mentioned. Sanchez advised him that issues have been “very completely different” in Iran from Sulaymaniyah, the Iraqi metropolis crammed with parks and cafes.

“It’s been an extended story,” his final message learn.

Sanchez’s dad and mom mentioned he had warned them he’d quickly lose web entry after reaching Iran.

“The nation is ‘sizzling,’ and there are not any communications,” Sanchez advised his father in his final message on Oct. 1, probably a reference to the turmoil in Iran’s Kurdish area and the federal government’s disruption of web and fashionable communications purposes utilized by protesters.

His dad and mom tried not to fret when their messages did not ship. But their worries grew because the weeks handed.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry mentioned it had registered Sanchez’s border crossing into Iran and was not ruling out any prospects.

In his final Instagram replace, the evening earlier than he crossed the Iranian border, he posted pictures of his emotional farewell to Iraq and advised of a Kurdish household’s generosity. He had deliberate to camp on a mountain, however the proprietor of a close-by farm took him in, giving him a mattress, bathe and a hearty dinner.

Pictures on Instagram present him consuming bread and rooster soup, smiling and posing with younger boys from the village and ingesting tea over an open fireplace.

“Conclusion:” he wrote, “Lose your self to end up.”


DeBre reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press author Salar Salim contributed from Irbil, Iraq


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