Japan journalist freed from Syrian captivity says he's safe

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga speaks during a press conference in Tokyo, Tuesday Oct. 23, 2018. Japan's government said Tuesday that a man believed to be a Japanese freelance journalist who went missing three years ago while in Syria has been released and is now in Turkey. Suga told a hastily arranged news conference late Tuesday that Japan was informed by Qatar that the man, believed to be journalist Jumpei Yasuda, has been released. (Kyodo News via AP)
In this image released by the Hatay governorate in Turkey, Jumpei Yasuda of Japan, talks in Antakya, Turkey, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. Japan confirmed Wednesday that a man freed from Syria is the Japanese freelance journalist Yusuda, who was kidnapped three years ago by al-Qaida's branch in Syria, known at the time as the Nusra Front, and said he appears to be in good health. (Antakya Governorate via AP)
Mother Sachiko Yasuda cries while speaking to the media with father Hideaki Yasuda of Japanese freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda outside their home in Iruma, northwest of Tokyo, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. A man believed to be journalist Yasuda who disappeared three years ago in Syria has been released and is now in Turkey, a Japanese official said. (Kyodo News via AP)
Mother Sachiko Yasuda cries while speaking to the media with father Hideaki Yasuda of Japanese freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda outside their home in Iruma, northwest of Tokyo, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. A man believed to be journalist Yasuda who disappeared three years ago in Syria has been released and is now in Turkey, a Japanese official said. (Kyodo News via AP)
In this image released by the Hatay governorate in Turkey, Jumpei Yasuda of Japan, talks in Antakya, Turkey, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. Japan confirmed Wednesday that a man freed from Syria is the Japanese freelance journalist Yusuda, who was kidnapped three years ago by al-Qaida's branch in Syria, known at the time as the Nusra Front, and said he appears to be in good health. (Antakya Governorate via AP)
In this photo taken on Feb. 18, 2015, Japanese freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda speaks during an interview in Tokyo. Japan's government says a man believed to be a Japanese freelance journalist who went missing three years ago while in Syria has been released and is now in Turkey. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference late Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 that Japan was informed by Qatar that the man, believed to be Jumpei Yasuda, has been released. (Kyodo News via AP)
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters on a Japanese freelance journalist freed from Syria, at his official residence in Tokyo Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. A Japanese freelance journalist who was freed after more than three years of captivity in Syria said Wednesday he is safe in neighboring Turkey. (Kyodo News via AP)
Men walk past a TV screen showing a news program with an image of Japanese freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018 in Tokyo. A man believed to be Yasuda who disappeared three years ago in Syria has been released and is now in Turkey, a Japanese official said. Japanese characters at top right read: "Jumpei Yasuda was released." (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
A man walks past a TV screen showing a news program with an image of Japanese freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018 in Tokyo. A man believed to be Yasuda who disappeared three years ago in Syria has been released and is now in Turkey, a Japanese official said. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono speaks to reporters at foreign ministry in Tokyo Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. Japan confirmed Wednesday that a man freed from Syria is a Japanese freelance journalist who disappeared three years ago and said he appears to be in good health. (Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO — A Japanese freelance journalist who was freed after more than three years of captivity in Syria said Wednesday he is safe in neighboring Turkey.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Japanese Embassy officials met with the journalist, Jumpei Yasuda, at an immigration center in southern Turkey near the border with Syria.

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

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.

"My name is Jumpei Yasuda, Japanese journalist. I have been held in Syria for 40 months," Yasuda said, somewhat haltingly, in English in videotaped comments broadcast by Japan's NHK public television. "Now I am in Turkey. Now I am in safe condition. Thank you very much."

NHK said the video was shot inside the immigration center and was released by the local government in Turkey's Hatay province.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said "Every effort is being made to ensure that the journalist is returned to his country," but would not provide information on the handover.

News of Yasuda's release came late Tuesday from Qatar, which helped in obtaining his freedom along with Turkey and other countries in the region, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Asked if any ransom was paid, Suga said, "There is no fact that ransom money was paid."

Yasuda's wife, a singer who goes by the name Myu, was on a live talk show on Japanese television and shed tears when she heard Kono confirm that her husband was safe. "First I want to tell him welcome back, and then praise him for enduring," she said. "I'm so glad he survived."

Yasuda's parents earlier said they couldn't 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 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 to every day for three years.

Prime Minsiter Shinzo Abe promised the government would help arrange the earliest possible return home for Yasuda. He said Yasuda appeared in good health, an indication he would be fit to travel when his travel documents and other procedures are complete.

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 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 location and activities.

Several videos showing a man believed to be Yasuda have been released in the past year.

In one video released in July, a bearded man thought 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.

Those missing include Austin Tice of Houston, Texas, who disappeared in August 2012 while covering the conflict, which has killed some 400,000 people. A video released a month later showed him blindfolded and held by armed men, saying "Oh, Jesus." He has not been heard from since.

Tice is a former Marine who has reported for The Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, CBS and other outlets, and disappeared shortly after his 31st birthday.

Another is British photojournalist John Cantlie, who appeared in Islamic State group propaganda videos. Cantlie has worked for several publications, including The Sunday Times, The Sun and The Sunday Telegraph. He was kidnapped with American journalist James Foley in November 2012. The IS beheaded Foley in August 2014.

Lebanese journalist Samir Kassab, who worked for Sky News, was kidnapped on Oct. 14, 2013, along with a colleague from Mauritania, Ishak Moctar, and a Syrian driver while on a trip in northern Syria.

In March 2014, two Spanish journalists — correspondent Javier Espinosa and photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova — were released six months after being kidnapped by an al-Qaida-linked group.

___

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

People also read these

'Dangal' becomes China's biggest non-Hollywood...

May 23, 2017

The Aamir Khan film "Dangal" about an Indian man training his daughters to become wrestlers has...

Chinese activist stands trial accused of inciting...

Aug 22, 2017

A prominent Chinese human rights campaigner accused of inciting subversion of state power said at...

China's ever-tighter web controls jolt companies,...

Sep 10, 2017

China's campaign to stamp out use technology that allows web surfers to evade its internet filters...

Another deadly blaze strikes Beijing as evictions...

Dec 14, 2017

Five people have died in an east Beijing fire, underscoring the challenges for the Chinese capital...

China's 2017 movie ticket sales rise 13.5 percent

Jan 1, 2018

Domestic movie ticket sales rose 13.5 percent in 2017 in China, the world's second-biggest global...