Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) say they have taken hostage seven Iranians, five of whom were allegedly soldiers complicit in the Syrian government's violent crackdown on protesters in the opposition-controlled city of Homs.
The Farouk Brigade of the FSA, an umbrella group of members of the country's security forces who defected to protect civilians from the government's attacks, say they will not release the hostages until the government frees a defected army officer and ends the prolonged military siege on Homs.
A video released by the FSA fighters purports to show five of the captured Iranians and their identity cards, which allegedly reveal that they are part of Iran's security forces. The defected troops say the other two hostages were civilians.
However, there are concerns about the veracity of the FSA's claims that the five hostages are actually soldiers.
Al Jazeera's Nicole Johnston reported that all five names of the hostages match the names of five Iranian engineers abducted in December. The names of the engineers were listed by Iranian media.
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Johnston added that at least one of the Iranians in the FSA video bears a striking resemblance to a kidnapped engineer.
In the video, the hostages appear to admit to operating as snipers who were targeting civilians under the direct supervision of Syria's Air Force Security unit.
The Syrian National Council, a leading opposition group, says the development helps confirm reports from refugees who fled the country's violence and from opposition leaders in Syria, that the Iranian government, a close ally of Damascus, has been backing the 10-month crackdown.
Abdulrazzak Tlas, a leader of the Farouk Brigade, told Al Jazeera that the video released by the group was accurate and that the hostages are really members of Iran's security forces.
Haider Ali, one of the hostages, said in the video: "I am a member of the revolutionary armed forces of Iran. I am leader of a five-member special team. I entered Syria on October 16, 2011. The others entered Syria on different dates."
He continued: "I and my team members, with the support of Syrian security-intelligence forces, were involved in suppressing and shooting ordinary Syrians. We killed a lot of people, including women and children, in the city of Homs.
"We urge Iran's supreme military leader [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei to order the Iranian military personnel who suppress the Syrians to be repatriated from Syria, so we can also return home."
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The other hostages stated their names as Ahmad Aziz Askari, Hasan Hasani, Majid Qanbari and Kyumars Qobadi. It was not possible to determine if the confession was forced.
In an earlier interview with Al Jazeera, a member of the Farouk Brigade who called himself Abu Bassem, stressed that the group was not biased against Shias.
"We are not sectarian," he said. "We ask Iran to admit they sent members of Revolutionary Guards to Syria."
He said Iran had until January 28 to withdraw all of the country's security forces from Syria.
When pressed about what would happen should the deadline lapse, Bassem said: "We are not terrorists, criminals or killers. We are against anyone who threatens innocent Syrians."
He continued: "We caught these people, they were armed. They are snipers. They were killing our Syrian brethren. We will try, God willing, to return them to their families safely, but given the difficult circumstances Homs is experiencing, we cannot guarantee their safety."
Source: Al Jazeera