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Thursday
Jan262012

Syria Video Special: Free Syrian Army Captures "Iranian Soldiers"


UPDATE 1705 GMT: The Iranians in Syria. Press TV claims, from "a tribal figure in northern Lebanon", that five Iranians --- engineers, according to Tehran; soldiers, according to the Free Syria Army, who seized the men --- have been moved to the area.

Press TV does not indicate if two other Iranians, who were seized when they tried to obtain information about the missing men, have also been relocated.

The Al Farouk Brigade, which claims to hold the five Iranians and put them on a video which was released last week, is based in Homs, near where the men were abducted.


UPDATE 1405 GMT: An EA reader offers some information for our questions about the Iranian "soldiers"/"engineers" abducted and put on video by the Free Syrian Army (see 1020 GMT):

[State news agency] IRNA had reported on 4 December 2011 that the five abducted engineers worked for Fanavaran Sanat Gostar Zagros and Parsian companies, which are subcontractors of MAPNA (Iran Power Plant Projects Managements Co.).

IRNA also emphasises that MAPNA is a renowned company figuring on the United vendor list. The five had allegedly been involved earlier in the construction of the Tishreen power plant [southeast of Damascus].

As to the abduction date, IRNA claims it was on 20 September 2011.


UPDATE 28 JANUARY, 1020 GMT: The Iranians in Syria. An interesting contribution from Syria's State news agency SANA on the seven Iranian men held by a brigade of the Free Syrian Army, five of whom were shown in a video on Thursday "confessing" to operating as snipers and killing civilians in Homs:

The Director of Public Relaitons and Marketing at Iran's MAPNA Group, Bahnam Hakiki, affirmed on Friday that the seven Iranians abducted in Syria in September 2011 are engineers working on the construction of an electric plant, and that the cards they carry are military service discharge cards.

Hakiki said that the seven engineers were abducted while working on the Jandal electric power plant near Homs, and that they were never military personnel and that the cards they carry simply show that they completed their military service, adding that all Iranians who finished mandatory military service carry such cards.

He stressed that anything these people said or will say in the future is a result of coercion under pressure, noting that Sajad Amirian --- who appeared on al-Jazeera and showed his card to the camera --- is in charge of electric installations at the plant, and that all documents proving this are available....

MAPNA Group is an Iranian group of Iranian companies involved in construction and installation of energy production.

Some notes: 1) Hakiki's statement shows sensitivity in particuarly over the display of the military cards on camera, although he is correct that the two seen were end-of-conscription cards; 3) to my knowledge, this is the first that the MAPNA Group has been linked to the seven men.


UPDATE 2059 GMT: The Iranian Embassy in Syria's Press Attaché, Leva'a Roudbari, has declared that none of the seven Iranians held by the Free Syrian Army are in the military, “The kidnappers’ claims is baseless."

Roudbari, in an interview with Syrian State TV, also appeared to say that two of the seven men would be released, "Iran welcomes the kidnappers’ decision to free two of the kidnapped engineers.”

In statements to Reuters (see 1932 GMT), members of the Free Syrian Army said that, while the first five Iranians seized were not engineers but were snipers assisting the Assad regime's military, the two men who came to Syria to enquire about them were civilians.

A photo of five abducted Iranian "engineers", with their Syrian cook --- are they the five captured "Iranian soldiers" shown in a video from Syria?

See also Syria Video Special: Free Syrian Army Captures "Iranian Soldiers"


2119 GMT: Warning the Supreme Leader. Earlier this month Hossein Alaei, the former Revolutionary Guards commander, caused a stir with an article implicitly warning the Supreme Leader against the consequences of repression. Twelve Guards commanders called Alaei an agent of the enemy and an angry crowd gathered outside his house and defaced it, while other former commanders and some conservative politicians defended him.

Now Alaei has put out another statement, in Jomhouri Eslami, about dictatorships. This one, however, is carefully worded to avoid accusations that the former commander is challenging Ayatollah Khamenei. He states that dictatorships have come to an end, referring to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and continues that "dictators cannot rule with tyranny".

2059 GMT: The "Iranian Soldiers" in Syria. The Iranian Embassy in Syria's Press attaché, Leva'a Roudbari, has declared that none of the seven Iranians held by the Free Syrian Army are in the military, “The kidnappers’ claims is baseless."

Roudbari, in an interview with Syrian State TV, also appeared to say that two of the seven men would be released, "Iran welcomes the kidnappers’ decision to free two of the kidnapped engineers.”

In statements to Reuters (see 1932 GMT), members of the Free Syrian Army said that, while the first five Iranians seized were not engineers but were snipers assisting the Assad regime's military, the two men who came to Syria to enquire about them were civilians.

There is a curiosity in the article with Roudbari's statement, however. The six men in the accompanying photograph, shown in a power plant, do not appear to be match up to the "engineers" seized in Syria.


UPDATE 1932 GMT: Reuters adds important information to the released video of five Iranians --- engineers, according to Tehran; members of the Iranian military, according to the Free Syrian Army --- seized in December.

Insurgents said two other men taken in a second abduction were civilians. That matches up to information from Iranian media early this month that two Iranians were seized when they went to Syria to resolve the situation of the first five captives.

A Free Syrian Army fighter said, "We will not release [the seven men] until the government stops its military operations against Homs and frees Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Harmoush.

Harmoush was the first senior Syrian military officer to defect to the opposition. Activists say he was kidnapped in Turkey and taken back to Syria, where he appeared on State TV retracting his criticism of the Assad regime. His whereabouts are unknown.

Another insurgent said, "If the regime refuses to negotiate with us, we will keep them (the hostages) with us and we will try to bring more (Iranians) as well." And a third fighter confirmed that the FSA was holding the seven Iranians hostage.

An official FSA spokesman said he could not comment because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Reuters' information is significant because, despite the dispute over the status of the Iranians: 1) it confirms that the released video is tied to the abduction of not just five but seven "engineers"; 2) it confirms that the Free Syrian Army is in command of the abduction --- and the display of the Iranians on video --- and that this is not the operation of a "maverick" brigade; 3) it establishes that the priority is not whether the Iranians are in fact soldiers, but whether they can be traded for Lieutenant Colonel Harmoush.


UPDATE 1430 GMT: EA's James Miller makes a significant discovery --- this is not the first time that a unit in the Free Syrian Army, the "Al Farouk Brigade", has displayed the five Iranian "engineers"/"soldiers".

In early January, about a week after the five Iranians were abducted the French magazine Paris Match published a two-page pictorial feature on the Iranians --- four are visible --- with the brigade commander "Abdul Razzaq Talas". The photos of the men match up to those of the "engineers" in the Iranian publication Mehr (see below).

Paris Match did not explain how it obtained the photograph, merely saying that the Iranians were suspected of being snipers supporting the Syrian military.


UPDATE 27 JANUARY, 0727 GMT: An EA correspondent makes a vital connection, linking the Thursday video of five "Iranian soldiers" captured in Syria with the case of five Iranian "engineers" reportedly kidnapped in Syria in December.

First, the names from the video which we posted last night: Sajjad (Haider Ali) Aminan, Ahmad Sohrabi Gertabadi. Hasan Hasani. Majid Qanbari. Kyumars Qobadi.

Now this from the Iranian website Mehr on 29 December:

The five [abducted] engineers, who have been building the [Syrian city of Hom's] Jandar power plant for the past two years are: electrical engineer and caretaker of electrical equipment testing group Sajad Amirian; technician and the workshop caretaker Ahmad Sohrabi; technician and electrical equipments installer Hassan Hassani; technician and installer of testing equipments of electrical equipment Majid Ghanbari; and technician and electrical equipment installer Qumars Ghobadi.

These specialists are employed in Parsian and Fanavaran-Sanat-Gostar-e-Zagros Corporations.

A photograph of the five engineers with their Syrian cook:


According to activists, these soldiers are Iranian, they had been cooperating the the Syrian security forces, and they have been captured by the Free Syrian Army. At the end, two of the five men hold up end-of-conscription cards.

 

The full transcript, provided by EA Correspondent Josh Shahryar, is below:

See the latest from Syria, Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Insurrection?

 

0:49 – 0:57 My name is Sajjad (Haider Ali) Aminan and I am a member of the revolutionary armed forces of Iran. I am leader of a five-member

0:57 – 1:04 special team. I entered Syria on October 16, 2011. The others entered Syria on different dates.

1:04 – 1:13 (What are your names?) Ahmad Sohrabi Gertabadi. Hasan Hasani. Majid Qanbari. Kyumars Qobadi.

1:13 – 1:26 My team and I entered Syria and supported the security intelligence forces of Syria in suppressing and shooting civilians.

1:26 – 1:39 After we were done with our daily activities, we would return from our 'jobs' to where we used to live.

1:39 – 1:48 We have killed many civilians in the city of Homs, including many women and children. We received our

1:48 – 1:59 orders directly from the airforce intelligence forces of the city of Homs. We have a request from

1:59 – 2:05 Sayyed Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to take action in bringing back all

2:05 – 2:15 the Islamic republic forces who are in Syria and supporting the suppression of the Syrian people so we

2:15 could also come back to our homes.

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