- Bashar al-Assad - Iran - Syria - unrest
Syrian rebel video claims to show Iranian hostages
A video purporting to show Syrian rebels holding a group of Iranians hostage was posted on YouTube on Sunday. The rebels claimed the hostages were elite Revolutionary Guards and pledged to target Iranians due to Tehran’s support of the Assad regime.
AFP - Syrian rebels posted Sunday an online video of Iranians kidnapped in Damascus, charging they were elite Revolutionary Guards, and warning Tehran of further abductions over its support for Damascus.
Fighters of the Al-Baraa Brigade of the rebel Free Syrian Army have "captured 48 of the shabiha (militiamen) of Iran who were on a reconnaissance mission in Damascus," said a man dressed in FSA officer's uniform in the video posted on YouTube.
"During the investigation, we found that some of them were officers in the Revolutionary Guards," he said, showing documents taken from one of the men, who appeared in the background.
In the footage, a group of men appeared sitting on the floor, while gunmen behind them carried the old Syrian flag that has been adopted by the rebels.
"We warn Iran that we will target all its installations in Syria...The fate of all Iranians working in Syria will be just like the fate of those, either prisoners, or dead," the bearded officer said.
"God is great," the gunmen chanted as he finished reading his statement.
Al-Arabiya television aired an interview with a man it identified as Al-Baraa Brigade commander Abdel Nasser Shmeir.
"They are 48, in addition to an Afghani interpreter," said the officer, who is the FSA chief in the east Damascus suburb of Ghouta, claiming that the captives were members of a 150-strong group sent by Iran for "reconnaissance on the ground."
But a Syrian opposition source dismissed the videotape as a fake designed to cover-up the responsibility of hardline Sunni Islamist group Jundallah.
The source said that the faction -- which has no relation with the Sunni rebel group of the same name active in southeastern Iran -- was one of an array of Sunni Islamist factions that have proliferated in Syria in recent months.
The group also has no links with the mainstream FSA, the source said.
"Jundallah are an extremist Islamist group whose religious discourse is based on inciting hatred against Shiites and Alawites," the source told AFP on condition of anonymity, referring also to the minority sect of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The video "was just a cover-up for the fact that this operation was carried out in order to target Iranian Shiites," the source said.
The source also voiced scepticism about the suggestion that the kidnapped Iranians were Revolutionary Guards.
"It makes no sense that the hostages would be members of the Revolutionary Guard," the source said. "If they were, why would they be travelling on a bus on the unsafe airport road?"
The source noted that Shiite pilgrims -- from Iran and elsewhere -- have continued to visit holy sites in Syria despite the mounting insecurity, because they believe in the sanctity of their journey, even if it involves serious risk.
The source also blamed Jundallah for recent killings of Alawite and Shiite civilians, as well as 15 Syrian troops, in Yalda, outside Damascus.
Iran has appealed to Qatar and Turkey -- both governments with close relations with the Syrian opposition -- for help in securing the release of the 48 hostages it says were visiting the Sayyida Zeinab shrine, a Shiite pilgrimage site in the southeastern suburbs of Damascus.
Tehran has repeatedly denied it has sent any military units to Syria.
Iranian Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on Saturday before the latest abduction was made public that "Iran has no armed forces in Syria and the Syrian government has not made such a request," according to Iranian state television channel IRIB.
"Syria has a powerful military and also enjoys popular support. The Syrians can handle the adventures that foreigners have created in their country," Vahidi said.