Japan confirms identification of journalist free of Syria

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Japan has confirmed that a man freed from Syria is a Japanese freelance journalist who was kidnapped three years ago.

The man was identified as Jumpei Yasuda, foreign minister Taro Kono said.

“We are extremely pleased that we have confirmed the safety of Mr Jumpei Yasuda,” Mr Kono told reporters.

He said Japanese Embassy officials met with Mr Yasuda at an immigration centre in southern Turkey near the border with Syria, where he has been protected since he was freed on Tuesday.

Mr Kono said Mr Yasuda appeared to be in good health.

Mr 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.

The news of Mr Yasuda’s release came late on Tuesday from Qatar, which helped in efforts for his release along with Turkey and other countries in the region, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said, thanking them for their support.

Asked if any ransom was paid, Mr Suga said: “There is no fact that ransom money was paid.”

Mr Yasuda’s parents earlier said they could not 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.

Mr 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 Mr Yasuda after he sent a message to another Japanese freelancer on June 23, 2015. In his last tweet two days earlier, Mr Yasuda said his reporting was often obstructed and that he would stop tweeting his location and activities.

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