A Japanese journalist believed to have been captured in Syria three years ago has reportedly been released, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced earlier today.
Last night, the government said it had received information that a man believed to be Jumpei Yasuda, a freelance journalist, had been released by Hayaat Tahrir Al-Shaam (HTS), which controls territory in the north of the country. He was transferred to the border city of Antakya to have his identity confirmed by Japanese officials.
"I have been held in Syria for 40 months, now in Turkey. Now I'm in safe condition. Thank you very much," Yasuda said in the video from an immigration centre.
No ransom was paid in return for freeing Yasuda, although some $10 million had reportedly initially been requested. The journalist, who had travelled to the region to report on the ongoing civil war, had appeared in several videos, addressing his family and calling for the government to aid his release.
Speaking to reporters, Prime Minister Abe thanked Qatar and Turkey for their cooperation in freeing the man.
"I'm relieved to hear the information. We want to confirm whether the man is Mr Jumpei Yasuda as soon as possible," Abe said.
This was not the first time Yasuda had been detained in the Middle East. He was held in Baghdad in 2004 and drew criticism at home for drawing the government into negotiations for his release.
Japan has also been criticised for its response to previous kidnappings of its citizens in Syria, causing particular controversy when another journalist Kenji Goto was beheaded by Daesh militants in early 2015. His killing came a week after the apparent beheading of another Japanese man, Haruna Yukawa.