Prisoner Exchange: Syria Releases 2,130 Prisoners for Return of Iranian Pilgrims

Pilgrims Had Been Held by Free Syrian Army Since August

48 Iranian pilgrims who were captured near the Shi’ite shrine of Sayeda Zeinab have finally been freed today as part of a major prisoner exchange between the Syrian government and the rebels, which saw the government releasing 2,130 detainees.

The pilgrims were captured on a tour bus, and even though the Free Syrian Army never provided any evidence, they insisted the Iranians were probably members of the Revolutionary Guards. Why top Iranian soldiers would be unarmed and unescorted on a tour bus was never answered.

This allegation was a key part of how the rebels managed to argue in favor of such a huge ransom of prisoners for them, but with Syria increasingly reliant on Iran as one of their last few allies, not making a deal appears not to have been an option.

Everyone on both sides have reportedly been released now, and the Iranians have arrived at a hotel in Damascus, where they were welcomed by the Iranian ambassador. They will likely be leaving to return to Iran soon.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.