TOKYO — A Japanese freelance journalist who was freed after more than three years of captivity in Syria said Wednesday he is safe in neighbouring Turkey.
“We are extremely pleased that we have confirmed the safety of Mr. Jumpei Yasuda,” Kono told reporters.
Yasuda was kidnapped in 2015 by al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, known at the time as the Nusra Front, after contact with him was lost in June that year. A war monitoring group said he was most recently held by a Syrian commander with the Turkistan Islamic Party, which mostly comprises Chinese jihadis in Syria.
“My name is Jumpei Yasuda, Japanese journalist. I have been held in Syria for 40 months,” Yasuda said, somewhat haltingly, in English in videotaped comments broadcast by Japan’s NHK public television. “Now I am in Turkey. Now I am in safe condition. Thank you very much.”
NHK said the video was shot inside the immigration centre and was released by the local government in Turkey’s Hatay province.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said “Every effort is being made to ensure that the journalist is returned to his country,” but would not provide information on the handover.
In this video image released on July 31, 2018, and provided courtesy of SITE Intelligence Group, Japanese national Jumpei Yasuda appeals for his release as two armed men stand behind him at an unknown location in Syria on July 25, 2018, according to SITE. SITE
Asked if any ransom was paid, Suga said, “There is no fact that ransom money was paid.”
Yasuda’s parents earlier said they couldn’t wait to see their son return home.
“I was just praying for his safe return,” his mother Sachiko Yasuda, 75, told Japan’s NHK public television as she and her husband stood in front of their home outside Tokyo, holding a “thousand cranes” well-wishing origami ornament that she had added to every day for three years.
I was just praying for his safe return
Yasuda started reporting on the Middle East in the early 2000s. He was taken hostage in Iraq in 2004 with three other Japanese, but was freed after Islamic clerics negotiated his release.
His last work in Syria involved reporting on his friend Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist who was taken hostage and killed by the Islamic State group.
Contact was lost with Yasuda after he sent a message to another Japanese freelancer on June 23, 2015. In his last tweet two days earlier, Yasuda said his reporting was often obstructed and that he would stop tweeting his location and activities.
Several videos showing a man believed to be Yasuda have been released in the past year.
In one video released in July, a bearded man thought to be Yasuda said he was in a harsh environment and needed to be rescued immediately.
A man identified as Jumpei Yasuda of Japan exits a car in Antakya, Turkey, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. Huseyin Bozok/DHA via AP
Syria has been one of the most dangerous places for journalists since the conflict there began in March 2011, with dozens killed or kidnapped.
Several journalists are still missing in Syria and their fates are unknown.
Those missing include Austin Tice of Houston, Texas, who disappeared in August 2012 while covering the conflict, which has killed some 400,000 people. A video released a month later showed him blindfolded and held by armed men, saying “Oh, Jesus.” He has not been heard from since.
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Another is British photojournalist John Cantlie, who appeared in Islamic State group propaganda videos. Cantlie has worked for several publications, including The Sunday Times, The Sun and The Sunday Telegraph. He was kidnapped with American journalist James Foley in November 2012. The IS beheaded Foley in August 2014.
Lebanese journalist Samir Kassab, who worked for Sky News, was kidnapped on Oct. 14, 2013, along with a colleague from Mauritania, Ishak Moctar, and a Syrian driver while on a trip in northern Syria.