Spanish man trekking to Qatar for World Cup goes missing after crossing into Iran

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A Spanish man, trekking from Madrid to Doha for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, arrived in Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdish region of Iraq on his way to Qatar, before he went missing after crossing into Iran at the beginning of October.

The experienced 41-year-old trekker, Santiago Sanchez, has not been heard from since he crossed Iraq-Iran border over three weeks ago, his family said on Monday, stirring fears about his fate in a country convulsed by mass unrest.

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On his way to the border, Sanchez met local farmer Tofiq Ahmad and his wife Mahiya in the district of Penjwin.

“He came to us and asked, which (football) club you support, and we replied, well, we like Barcelona. He said, I am a Real fan, and you should support Real,” Ahmad said.

The Spanish adventurer explained how he planned to go to Tehran, the Iranian capital, the following day, where a television station wanted to interview him.

“I am going to Iran, I am going to Bashmakh (border gate), where is the road to Bashmakh. We said, this road takes you to Bashmakh, and so he took away his bike,” Ahmad added.

Sanchez next step would have been Bandar Abbas, a port in southern Iran where he would hop on a boat to Qatar.

The Kurdish couple offered him food and a place to stay before he continued his journey.

“I made him breakfast in the morning, and at night I cooked chicken and okra soup for him,” Mahiya Rashid recalled.

He left the couple’s house and headed to the border on October 1, which was the last day he was seen.

“I offered him a sandwich, but he said I have enough, and then offered him a bottle of water, and he said I have everything with me, then I said farewell to him, and he said bye-bye,” Mahiya said.

Sánchez had arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan in late September, after trekking thousands of kilometers (miles) carrying a small suitcase in a wheeled cart, packed with little more than a tent, water purification tablets and a gas stove for his 11 months on the road.

His parents reported him missing on October 17, and they said Spain’s police and diplomats were helping the family.

Sanchez’s reported disappearance in Iran comes as protesters continue to sweep the Islamic Republic in the largest anti-government movement in over a decade.

Tehran has violently cracked down on protesters and blamed foreign enemies and Kurdish groups in Iraq for fomenting the unrest, without offering evidence.

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry said authorities had arrested nine foreigners, mostly Europeans, over their alleged links to the protests last month.

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