Japanese journalist held in Syria believed to be freed

2018-10-24 07:48

A Japanese journalist kidnapped in Syria more than three years ago is believed to have been released, the government said on Tuesday.

Jumpei Yasuda, a 44-year-old freelancer, was seized in June 2015, and appeared in a rare video released by militants over the summer that warned he was in a bad situation.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a late night press conference the government was trying to verify information from Qatari authorities but it was "highly likely" Yasuda had finally been freed.

"The Qatar government informed us that Jumpei Yasuda has been freed and is now at the immigration centre in Antakya" in Turkey, Suga said.

"We're now verifying the information... but it's highly likely it is Jumpei Yasuda himself," he added.

A jihadist group in August released videos of the Japanese journalist and Italian national Alessandro Sandrini, in which they appealed for their release.

Both men were wearing orange outfits with armed, masked men standing behind them. The videos did not identify which group was holding the men or include specific demands.

Yasuda was thought to have been seized by the group previously known as the Al-Nusra Front, a former al-Qaeda affiliate, in northern Syria.

However, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, led by al-Qaeda's former branch in Syria, denied any involvement in the kidnapping in a statement on Tuesday.

"We deny the accusations directed against us in the kidnapping of Japanese journalist Yasuda. We heard of his release through media outlets," it said.

Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate was known as Al-Nusra Front before it cut ties with the transnational jihadist network in 2016 and changed its name.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Yasuda was released under a Turkish-Qatari deal, with some sources saying a ransom had been paid.

"He was released after his kidnappers handed him to a non-Syrian military force close to Turkey. He had been held in western parts of Idlib province," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

In the video released earlier this year, Yasuda identified himself as Korean and gave a different name, but spoke in Japanese.

His wife said she had no idea why Yasuda had identified himself as Korean in the video, but confirmed it showed him and that he is Japanese.

In 2015 militants from the Islamic State group beheaded Japanese war correspondent Kenji Goto and his friend Haruna Yukawa in Syria.

The Japanese government was criticised for what detractors saw as its flat-footed response to the crisis at the time, including apparently missed opportunities to free both men.

Read more on:    syria

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