Initially, Iran told the world that the 48 were "religious pilgrims." But members of the Free Syrian Army who have claimed responsibility for holding them says they're members of the elite Revolutionary Guards.
New York Times:
"They are Iranian thugs who were in Damascus for a field reconnaissance mission," said a rebel leader, in a video that the rebels said showed the captives sitting calmly behind armed Syrian fighters. In the video, the rebels flipped through what they said were Iranian identification cards and certificates for carrying weapons, proving, the rebels said, that the hostages were not religious pilgrims.
The identities and motives of the captives could not be independently verified, and some rebel groups have not embraced the kidnapping or the theory laid out by the fighters in the video. Col. Malik al-Kurdi, a deputy commander of the Free Syrian Army - one of several competing umbrella groups involved in the fighting - said the brigade taking responsibility for the kidnapping appeared to have been acting on its own and did not tell the Free Syrian Army about the operation.
Iranian officials said the kidnapped Iranians were pilgrims, denying that any of them were members of the Revolutionary Guards, Iran's Arabic-language channel Al Alam reported Sunday, quoting an unnamed government spokesman. On Saturday, Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, contacted the Syrian and Turkish foreign ministries, asking them to secure the release of the 48 Iranians.
In a statement, the Iranian Embassy in Damascus said that the abducted Iranians had traveled to Syria using a "private" tour company for a pilgrimage to the Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zeinab in the southeastern suburbs of Damascus, which is a mile or two from where fierce fighting has been raging in the neighborhood of Tadamon. While the video clip of the abducted Iranians showed only men, Iranian state news media said that women and children were also among those taken by the Syrian rebels.
So which is it, Rev Guards or pilgrims? It would not be beyond the Iranians to use the cover of a religious pilgrimage to smuggle members of the Quds force into Syria -- even using women and children as part of the scheme. And there have been documented instances of Iranian fighters assisting in the crackdown.
But the rebels have been wont to make wild claims, so their credbility is barely better than the Iranian government. If they are members of the Quds force, it shows that Iran is about to take a more active role in the Syrian civil war. This would be in keeping with the Iranian statement that they will not let President Assad fall.
An Iranian entry into the war would be just about as bad as it gets from the standpoint of spreading the conflict to other nations.