Jumpei Yasuda, a 44-year-old Japanese freelance journalist who went missing in Syria in 2015 and was feared held captive by a militant group, has most likely been released, Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday.
Suga said Japan was informed by Qatar around 9 p.m. that he was released and is now at an immigration facility in Antakya in Turkey.
«Considering various information together, it is most likely Jumpei Yasuda himself and we’ve told that to his wife,» the chief Cabinet secretary said at an urgent press conference, adding the government is trying to verify if he is the freed journalist.
Yasuda entered Syria to cover the civil war that began in 2011. He was believed to have been held hostage initially by an al-Qaida-linked armed group.
He went missing after telling his friend in Japan that he entered Syria on June 23, 2015, by crossing the border from the southern Turkish province of Hatay to the war-torn country’s northwestern region of Idlib.
In March 2016, footage of a person believed to be Yasuda reading out an English message to his family and home country was posted online, with a Syrian man who uploaded the video, contacted by Kyodo News, saying he received it from a go-between for the al Qaida-linked Nusra Front.
In May the same year, an image surfaced of a bearded man believed to be Yasuda holding a sign bearing the handwritten message in Japanese, «Please help. This is the last chance. Yasuda Jumpei.»
Multiple video recordings showing a man believed to be Yasuda were also posted online in July this year. In one of them, the man clad in an orange garment said in Japanese, «My name is Umaru and I’m South Korean.»
«I am in a very severe condition. Please help me, right now,» the man said while two gun-wielding men in black attire were seen standing behind him in the 20-second video said to have been shot on July 25, 2018.
The militant group was believed to be in contact with the Japanese government to seek ransom negotiations. Yasuda was believed to be in the hands of the Nusra Front but some information suggested he was handed over to a splinter organization.
Syria’s Idlib province is the rebel’s last stronghold, where antigovernment forces and radical groups defeated by the government forces are transferred, and many foreign combatants remain.
In 2004, Yasuda was held by an armed group in Iraq while covering a conflict in the country but was released unhurt along with another Japanese man three days later.
In the years since, Yasuda continued to cover the Middle East. A native of Iruma, Saitama Prefecture, near Tokyo, he started his journalism career in 1997 as a reporter with the Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, a local newspaper based in Nagano Prefecture in central Japan, and became a freelance in 2003.
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All — Kyodo News+