‘Captured Iranians in Syria not pilgrims but fighters`

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta that Iranians are trying to "develop a militia to be able to fight on behalf of Syrian regime”.

Washington: Many of the 48 Iranian men captured in Syria on August 04, who earlier claimed to be religious pilgrims, are actually Iranian Revolutionary Guard members on active-duty, US officials have confirmed.

Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had captured the group while they were travelling on a bus in the city of Damascus, Syria.

According to Fox News, top members of the Iranian government have reportedly reached out to President Bashar al-Assad to help secure the release of the guards, and have claimed that these men were on a Shi’ite pilgrimage visiting the Sayyida Zeinab shrine, a holy Shi’ite site in the suburbs of Damascus.

However, US officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, claimed that these men were not on a pilgrimage, and were rather there to offer support for the Assad regime.

“It`s obvious Iran is playing a larger role in Syria in many ways,” Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said.

Describing Iran`s growing influence as a "deep concern" for the United States, Panetta further added saying that there is evidence not only that Iranians are providing training and assistance to the Syrian Army, but that they are trying to "develop a militia to be able to fight on behalf of the regime”.