Middle East

Abducted Iranian engineers in Syria not yet freed: ministry

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast. (AFP/Behrouz Mehri)

TEHRAN: Seven Iranian engineers kidnapped near Syria's embattled city of Homs in late December have not been released as previously reported, and remain captives, the Iranian foreign ministry said on Thursday.

"We hope to witness the freedom of the Iranian engineers and the rest of pilgrims soon," ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency.

A week ago, the foreign ministry announced that the seven, working on an electricity plant near Homs, had been released by their abductors.

It said the kidnapped men worked for Iran Power Plant Projects Management Company, or Mapna, which is the Iranian energy ministry's biggest contractor.

A previously unknown group calling itself the "Movement Against the Expansion of Shiism in Syria" claimed responsibility for their abduction in a statement received by AFP in Nicosia at the beginning of January.

The rebel Free Syrian Army later said it was holding five Iranian Revolutionary Guards abducted in Homs. It was not clear if those five referred to part of the group of seven, or were separate.

Another, distinct group of 11 Iranian pilgrims also remain captives in Syria. A different group of 11 Iranian pilgrims was released last week into Turkey.

Syria, Iran's principal ally in the Middle East, is roiled by an 11 month uprising that has seen more than 6,000 people killed, according to human rights groups.





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