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WASHINGTON — Boxing legend Muhammad Ali is asking Iran to free two American hikers held captive for nearly two years.

Ali did not speak Tuesday, but he led a prominent group of U.S. Muslims in appealing for the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal.

Ali’s wife, Lonnie, said the hikers are “citizens of the world.” Like her husband, they sought to engage people worldwide despite cultural differences, she said.

The Americans have been held since being taken into custody along the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009. Bauer’s fiancee, Sarah Shourd, was released on bail last year. She also pleaded for the pair’s release.

Earlier Tuesday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told Iranian state TV that calling them hikers is a “joke.” The two Americans are charged with espionage. They deny the charges.

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