Iran says 11 of its citizens kidnapped in Syria
Tehran: Eleven Iranian citizens were kidnapped while on a pilgrimage in Syria, the official IRNA news agency reported on Thursday, quoting an Iranian official.
"Their bus was on its way ... to Damascus when it was attacked in the central regions of Syria and 11 passengers were abducted," Iranian pilgrimage official Massoud Akhavan was quoted as saying by IRNA, giving no further details.
English-language Press TV said on its website that an armed group had kidnapped the men on the bus and "drove off to an unknown destination, leaving the female passengers in the vehicle".
It said the gunmen contacted the relatives of one of the kidnapped passengers in Tehran and demanded a ransom.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast condemned the attack as "unjustifiable" and asked Damascus to secure the release of the abducted citizens, IRNA reported.
Five Iranian technicians were kidnapped in the Syrian city of Homs in December and Tehran demanded their immediate release.
The Syrian government is under mounting international pressure to end its crackdown on the 10-month uprising.
Kidnappings and killings based on religious identity are increasingly common in protest flashpoints such as Homs, sparking international and regional concerns that strife could lead to sustained sectarian bloodshed in Syria.
Iran, Syria`s closets ally in the region, has condemned what it has called foreign interference in Syrian affairs and has praised reforms President Bashar al-Assad has pledged to undertake.
Tehran has tempered its rhetoric on Syria as the uprising has dragged on. At first it wholeheartedly supported Assad`s stance against public opposition, but now it is encouraging reforms to take account of popular grievances.
The United Nations says the bloodshed in Syria has killed more than 5,000 people. Syrian officials say the revolt is run by foreign-backed militants that have killed over 2,000 of its forces.
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