Syrian Militants Reportedly Release Japanese Journalist From Three-year Captivity

Jumpei Yasuda, a freelance journalist, went missing after entering Syria in June 2015 to cover the country's civil war. He was reportedly held by a group linked to the al-Qaeda-associated Fatah al-Sham, previously known as the Nusra Front

Japanese freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda holds a banner with a handwritten message in Japanese at an undisclosed location, released May 30, 2016

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday that he was relieved to hear a Japanese journalist kidnapped in Syria three years ago has reportedly been freed by militants.

"I'm relieved to hear the news," the Japanese leader told reporters. 
The Japanese government is hoping to confirm that the freed man is freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda "as soon as possible," Abe added.

In this image released by the Hatay governorate in Turkey, Jumpei Yasuda of Japan, talks in Antakya, Turkey, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018.
Huseyin Bozok,AP

Yasuda went missing after entering Syria in June 2015 to cover the country's civil war. He was reportedly held by a group linked to the al-Qaeda-associated Fatah al-Sham, previously known as the Nusra Front.

Spokesman Yoshihide Suga said the Japanese government planned to confirm the identity of the man, who was being held in an immigration facility in the Turkish city of Antakya.

Tokyo was informed by authorities in Qatar that Yasuda has been released to Turkey, Suga told a news conference late Tuesday. Suga thanked Qatar and Turkey for their assistance.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that has been documenting the conflict in Syria since 2011, said that a Turkish-Qatari deal led to the release of the man.

The watchdog said some reports from inside Idlib province indicated that a ransom was paid for his release.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on October 24, 2018

Suga denied that Japan had paid any ransom.

While officials tried to be careful, as the journalist identity has yet to be confirmed, Yasuda's parents said Wednesday they couldn't wait to see their son's 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 one every day for three years.

Yasuda started reporting on the Middle East in 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 whereabouts and activities.

Several videos showing a man believed to be Yasuda have been released in the past year.

In one video released in July, the bearded man believed to be Yasuda said he was in a harsh environment and needed to be rescued immediately.

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.