Freelance journalist Junpei Yasuda, who was kidnapped soon after travelling to conflict-ridden Syria in 2015, was confirmed to have been released, Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Wednesday.
“We have confirmed the safety of Junpei Yasuda,” Kono told reporters at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo.
“Staff at the Japanese Embassy in Turkey travelled [to an immigration facility in Antakya, southern Turkey] and are speaking with him,” the foreign minister said. “His health condition initially seems OK.”
On Tuesday night, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the government had been informed by the Qatari government that Yasuda had been released and was staying at an immigration facility in Antakya, near the border with Syria.
Yasuda, 44, is said to have been held by Islamic extremist group Levant Liberation Organization (formerly the Nusra Front, see below) since June 2015. Images of a man who appeared to be Yasuda were often posted on the internet with such pleas as, “Help me right now.”
As for video footage of a man posted online at the end of July, Suga had said that the government recognized him as Yasuda and stressed that it was making efforts for his release.
At a press conference earlier Wednesday, Suga said that the government has been working to solve the kidnapping mainly through a group tasked with gathering information about international terrorism directed by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Suga denied there were direct negotiations with the extremist group and added, “It isn’t the case that the government paid the ransom.”
At the press conference late Tuesday, Suga said the government had been informed by the Qatari government at around 7:40 p.m. that Yasuda could be released as early as that day.
At around 9 p.m., it received a second report from Qatar that he had been released and was staying at an immigration facility in Antakya.
Formerly the Nusra Front, an Al-Qaida-affiliated Islamist extremist group established sometime around 2011. Its aim is to topple the Syrian government, and it had a force of about 25,000 as of October 2017. The organization used to be supported by the predecessor of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group. Ransoms from kidnappings are its major funding source.