TOKYO (AP) – Japan was anxiously awaiting confirmation Wednesday that a man freed from Syria is a freelance journalist kidnapped three years ago.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters he was relieved by the news and is anxious to get the man’s identify confirmed. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has said the man is most likely Jumpei Yasuda and he is now in Turkey.
“I would like to get confirmation that he is Mr. Yasuda himself as quickly as possible,” Abe said.
Yasuda was kidnapped in 2015 by al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, known at the time as Nusra Front, after his contact 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.
Suga said Japanese diplomats will confirm his identity and check his health at a facility near Turkey’s border with Syria. Their report is expected later Wednesday.
The news of Yasuda’s release came from Qatar, which helped in the effort for the release, along with Turkey and other countries in the region, Suga said, thanking their support.
While officials tried to be careful, 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.
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.