Damascus: Forty-eight Iranians abducted by Syrian fighters were officers of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on a mission, and not Shi`ite pilgrims, said one of the rebels in a video on Sunday.
The video shown on the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television, shows the abducted Iranians sitting on the ground, surrounded by Syrian rebels.
The rebels, who claim to be the members of "Baraa Brigades”, say in the video that at least one of the captives, possessed an identification card proving that he belonged to Revolutionary Guards Corps.
These are not Iranian pilgrims but frauds on a “field reconnaissance mission”, a rebel said in the video.
However, Iran`s state-run media claims that the 48 abducted Iranians were pilgrims, who were kidnapped when on a bus from the suburb of Sayeda Zeinab, about 10 miles south of Damascus, to the airport to return home.
Iranian pilgrims have been visiting the ornate gold-domed shrine of Sayeda Zeinab, the Prophet Muhammad`s granddaughter. Over 700,000 pilgrims used to come to Syria every year, an Iranian news agency said.
Kidnappings have become common in Syria lately, as the country`s political crisis seems to be veering toward a sectarian rift between majority Sunnis and the ruling Alawitte, an offshoot of Shiism.
Also, the rebels utilise abductions as a way to threaten Syrian regime as a rebel said that Assad’s rule was shortlived, warning at the same time that Iranians helping Assad would not be spared.
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called on Turkey and Qatar to help release 48 Iranians abducted in Syria.
This is not the first time Iranians have been abducted by armed gunmen in Syria.
In January, armed assailants attacked a bus and abducted 11 Iranian pilgrims on the road between Damascus and the northwestern city of Aleppo.
In December 2011, armed men kidnapped five engineers in Homs city while they were on their way to work at the city`s Jandar power plant being built by Iranian technicians. Two other Iranians who tried to determine the fate of the engineers were also abducted.
With Agency Inputs