At least 48 Iranian nationals are being held by Syrian opposition fighters, with the rebels on Sunday saying those who were kidnapped belonged to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
The rebels dismissed claims that the people who were abducted were pilgrims, but said they were members of the elite Islamic Republic military unit.
Rebels “captured 48 of the Shabiha (militiamen) of Iran who were on a reconnaissance mission in Damascus,” said a rebel who appeared to belong to the opposition Free Syrian Army in a video that was given to Saudi television station Al Arabiya.
Another commander of the rebel fighters, Abdel Nasser Shmeir, corroborated with Al Araibya that Iranians who were kidnapped belonged to a group deployed by Iran into Syria for “reconnaissance on the ground.” He added that an Afghan interpreter is in their ranks.
The video footage shows a group of men sitting on the floor, flanked by armed guards, two of whom are holding up an old Syrian flag that was adopted by the rebels.
An opposition source, who was not named, told Qatar-based Al Jazeera that the video was a fake to cover up a Syrian Sunni Islamist faction called Jundallah and has no links to the Free Syrian Army.
“Jundallah are an extremist Islamist group whose religious discourse is based on inciting hatred against Shias and Alawites,” the source said. And the video “was just a cover-up for the fact that this operation was carried out in order to target Iranian Shias,” the source added.
The source was skeptical that those who were kidnapped could be Revolutionary Guards.
“If they were, why would they be traveling on a bus on the unsafe airport road?” the source said.
Shia pilgrim have traveled to sites in Syria despite the obvious security risks and violence that has plagued the country over the past 17 months, the source noted.
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