Iran’s Foreign Ministry has announced that 11 Iranian pilgrims were kidnapped while travelling to Damascus by land.
According to the state television network Press TV, Ramin Mehmanparast announced the news of the kidnapping on Thursday, condemning it as “a violation of humanitarian principles as well as moral and international obligations." He urged Syria’s Bashar Assad administration to take immediate steps to free the Iranian pilgrims.
Previously, a government opposition group in Syria had warned the Islamic Republic that if it “persists in supporting the Syrian government, [the group] would kidnap Iranian citizens.”
The report indicates that the female members of the pilgrimage were left behind. Reports also indicate that the kidnappers have called the family of one of the pilgrims and demanded a ransom.
Last month, the Iranian daily Jam-e Jam reported that two Iranian professionals were kidnapped in the Syrian city of Homs.
Homs has been a hotbed of anti-government protests in Syria and in recent weeks it has witnessed several sectarian conflicts and kidnappings.
Last November, another five Iranian engineers were kidnapped in Homs, according to Iranian media.
A group called “the Movement against the spread of Shi’aism in Syria” took responsibility for the kidnapping, saying it was a warning to Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The group issued a statement warning Iran and the Hezbollah that “if they do not immediately halt their support for the oppressive regime of Assad, other Iranian citizens and Hezbollah members will have the same fate.”
The Islamic Republic is considered a regional ally of the Bashar Assad government.
The Assad government has faced widespread protests since its crackdown on protests began last March, and UN reports indicate that the conflicts have left 5,000 Syrian citizens dead.