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World Cup: Fan walking to Qatar detained in Iran

On 1 October, Spanish trekker and football fanatic Santiago Sánchez posted series of photos to Instagram.

“Last village in northern Iraq, a mountain separates me from reaching Iran, the next country before reaching Qatar,” he wrote, alongside photos of his trip through Iraq.

Mr Sánchez was nearing the final leg of his mammoth trek from Madrid to Doha for the Fifa 2022 World Cup. He has not posted since.

All contact was lost on 2 October.

After weeks of concern among friends and family over his whereabouts, it emerged that the 41-year-old was in custody in the Iranian capital, Tehran.

“He has been arrested and he is now in a Tehran prison,” one of his friends, Francho Salamanca, told BBC News.

Spain’s foreign ministry told the BBC that its embassy in Tehran was in contact with Iranian authorities, but would not comment further.

Iran’s foreign ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

What happened to Mr Sánchez upon entering Iran is not fully clear.

The Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, based across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan, cited anonymous sources as saying he had been “kidnapped by Iranian security forces” after visiting the grave of Mahsa Amini, who died in custody after being arrested for allegedly wearing her hijab “improperly”.

Protests have swept across Iran since Ms Amini, 22, died on 16 September.

Norway-based Iran Human Rights says at least 234 protesters, including 29 children, have been killed by security forces in crackdowns so far. Iran’s leaders have portrayed the unrest as “riots” fomented by foreigners.

But concern grew after he failed to contact his parents for 10 days, and they reported him missing on 17 October.

“We are deeply worried, we can’t stop crying, my husband and I,” his mother, Celia Cogedor, told the Associated Press news agency earlier this week.

When family and friends were told by the Spanish government that Mr Sánchez was in jail, no official reason was given for his detention.

His mother told AP that the family was “filled with hope” after hearing that he had been detained.

Santiago Sánchez
Image caption,Mr Sánchez started his trip in January, travelling across Europe, Turkey and Iraq

His sister was due to meet officials at the Spanish foreign ministry in Madrid on Thursday to learn further details, AP reported.

Mr Sánchez started his trip in January, travelling across Europe and Turkey, sleeping in a tent, hotels and people’s homes, before entering Iraq.

In August he said he dreamed of meeting the Spanish team in Qatar and hoped to inspire them to victory.

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“If you don’t set a date for your dreams, you don’t realise them,” he told Reuters news agency, in reference to the 20 November kick-off.

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