Japanese journalist reportedly being held in Syria

Updated: 2015-12-25 08:53


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TOKYO - The Japanese government on Thursday opted to neither confirm or deny whether a Japanese journalist who has allegedly been kidnapped in Syria is being held by an armed group.

Yoshihide Suga, Japan's top government spokesperson, told a news conference that the government remains committed to upholding the safety of its citizens at home and overseas and where necessary would utilize different resources and measures to ensure their safety.

"Ensuring the safety of Japanese nationals is the government's key responsibility. We are doing our utmost to make use of various networks of information and take necessary actions," Suga said.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida reiterated the sentiment and added that he was aware of reports of the kidnapping of Jumpei Yasuda by an armed group in July, but would not corroborate the reports stating that the situation was "sensitive."

Japan's public broadcaster NHK, however, quoted Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB) as saying that Yasuda had "been kidnapped by an armed group in an area controlled by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front."

NHK said that Yasuda "reportedly entered Syria from southern Turkey in late June this year to cover the country's civil war," adding that, "He was accompanied by a guide."

"Yasuda was supposed to return in July but his whereabouts remain unknown," NHK said.

RWB are calling on the Japanese government to do their utmost to ensure the safe release of Yasuda, as the group holding him have begun a countdown on the payment of his ransom and have threatened to either execute Yasuda or sell him on to another terrorist group.

NHK said that Yasuda worked at a newspaper here before becoming freelance and has worked in conflict zones including Iraq and Syria, noting that he had been held captive by local militia for four days in Iraq in 2004.

RWB have said on their website that Yasuda was "kidnapped by an armed group in an area controlled by the Al-Nusra Front a few hours after crossing the border into Syria in early July."

"The stories he had wanted to cover included Islamic State's execution of his friend and fellow Japanese journalist Kenji Goto in January," RWB said.

Benjamin Ismail, the head of RWB's Asia-Pacific desk was quoted as saying that the Japanese government should do all it can to save Yasuda stating, "We are very concerned about Jumpei Yasuda's fate and we call on the Japanese government to do what is needed to save this journalist."

"We also urge all parties to this conflict to respect the media's work and to stop taking journalists hostage for political or financial purposes."

Japan, which has long-felt exempt from external terrorist threats, had a rude awakening this year when so-called Islamic State militants beheaded journalist Kenji Goto and along with another Japanese citizen posted the killings on popular video streaming site YouTube.