January 15, 2013 | Policy Brief

Pilgrims or Mercenaries? Iranian Hostages Freed by Free Syrian Army

The Free Syrian Army last week released forty seven Iranian citizens and their Syrian interpreter in exchange for 2,130 prisoners held by the Syrian government. The exchange of hostages was facilitated through the good offices of the Turkish charity IHH (which was behind the flotilla that prompted clashes with Israeli commandos in 2011).  Several sources now claim that IRGC commanders were among the released hostages.

The Iranian press released the names of twelve hostages: Adibi (no first name mentioned), Adibnia (no first name mentioned) Hossein Asiaban, Elahi (no first name mentioned), Hemmati (no first name mentioned), Hossein-Ali Hosseini, Karim Hossein-Khani, Ali Javadian, Barat Mottalebi, Ali-Akbar Nozadi, Morteza Qolipour, and Mohammad-Taqi Safari. Additionally, the Grassroot Campaign in Support of Freeing Iranian Hostages [Kampein-e Mardomi-ye Hemayat az Azadi-ye Geroganha-ye Irani] website released interviews with the relatives of the following eight named hostages: Assadollah Jangjou, Ali Javadifar, Marati (no first name mentioned), Mirzaei (no first name mentioned), Taleb Rahimi, Salimi (no first name mentioned), Ali Suleimani, and Shahmoradi (no first name mentioned). One hostage, Abedin Khorram, was identified by an Azeri website, which brings the number of hostages named by the state to twenty-one.

The state-controlled Iranian media did not mention the professional background or affiliation of the released. But, as it turns out, nine of them are active duty IRGC members. The list indeed includes: Brigadier General Abedin Khorram, West Azerbaijan IRGC commander; Colonel Taleb Rahimi, Naqadeh IRGC commander; Colonel Mohammad-Taqi Safari, Ganaveh IRGC commander; and Hojjat al-Eslam Karim Hossein-Khani, former representative of the Supreme Leader to the Oroumiyeh IRGC, and current head of the Clerics and Theological Students Basij in West Azerbaijan province. 

Name Province of origin IRGC affiliation
Sadeq Adibi Fars Reportedly Fars Province IRGC al-Mahdi Brigade Logistics commander
(First name not known) Adibnia Fars Not known
Hossein Asiaban South Khorasan Not known
Mohammad Elahi Fars Reportedly Fars Province IRGC al-Mahdi Brigade Operations Intelligence commander
Amrollah Hemmati Fars Reportedly Fars Province IRGC al-Mahdi Brigade Human Resource commander
Hossein Ali-Hosseini Razavi Khorasan IRGC member
Hojjat al-Eslam Karim Hossein-Khani West Azerbaijan Former representative of the Supreme Leader to the Oroumiyeh IRGC, and current head of the Clerics and Theological Students Basij in West Azerbaijan province
Assadollah Jangjou Not known Not known
Dr. Ali Javadian Fars Commander of the infirmary of the al-Mahdi IRGC unit in Jahrom
Ali Javadifar Not known Not known
Brigadier General Abedin Khorram West Azerbaijan West Azerbaijan IRGC commander
(First name not known) Marati Not known Not known
(First name not known) Mirzaei Not known Not known
Barat Mottalebi Not known Chauffeur of the group
Ali-Akbar Nozadi South Khorasan Not known
Morteza Qolipour South Khorasan Not known
Colonel Taleb Rahimi West Azerbaijan Naqadeh IRGC commander
Colonel Mohammad-Taqi Safari Bushehr Ganaveh IRGC commander
(First name not known) Salimi Not known Not known
Ali Suleimani Not known Not known
(First name not known) Shahmoradi Not known Not known
* Military rank, along with academic and theological titles, are mentioned to the extent they were available in the open source material.

The presence of active duty IRGC commanders among the freed hostages proves that, despite the emphatic denials of the the Islamic Republic, Iran is involved in the ongoing efforts to assist Bashar al-Assad’s brutal repression of the uprising in Syria. However, getting caught in a lie is the least of the Islamic Republic’s concerns. This affair has shattered the myth of the invincibility of the the IRGC. In their battle against peaceful and unarmed demonstrators in the streets of Iran in 2009, the IRGC was ruthlessly efficient. However, facing armed resistance and irregular warfare in Syria, the IRGC appears to be flailing.

Ali Alfoneh is a Senior Fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Iran Syria