Japanese journalist home after Syria kidnap 'hell'

Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda (centre), who was kidnapped in Syria three years ago, arriving at Narita Airport yesterday.
Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda (centre), who was kidnapped in Syria three years ago, arriving at Narita Airport yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO • A Japanese journalist who had been held in Syria for more than three years arrived home yesterday evening for a tearful reunion with his family after an ordeal he described as "hell".

Mr Jumpei Yasuda, who was freed earlier this week and taken to Turkey, was reunited with his wife Myu, his parents and other relatives at Narita Airport just outside Tokyo.

"I apologise for causing such trouble and worry, but thanks to all of you, I was able to come home safely," he said in a brief statement read to the media by his wife.

He declined to appear before reporters, but said he would hold a press conference later. Earlier, on board his flight to Tokyo, he gave a series of brief interviews to the Japanese media and described his nightmarish time in captivity.

"It was hell," he said. "Not only physically, but mentally as well. The thought each day that 'I'm not being released today either' left me losing control over myself bit by bit." He spoke calmly, but appeared slightly overwhelmed and tired, if otherwise healthy. "For about 40 months, I have not spoken a word of Japanese. Words don't come to my mind easily," he said. "I am happy that I am returning to Japan. At the same time, I have no idea what will happen now and how I should conduct myself. I am at a loss and don't know what to think."

Mr Yasuda's return has rekindled debate in Japan about reporting from war zones that some see as reckless adventurism and others as courageous journalism.

He was kidnapped in Syria in June 2015, and was reportedly initially a hostage of the group previously known as the Al-Nusra Front, a former Al-Qaeda affiliate. But the group's current iteration, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, denied any involvement in his kidnapping in a statement earlier this week.

There was only sporadic news of Mr Yasuda throughout his captivity, including a video that emerged in August showing him and a man identified as an Italian called Alessandro Sandrini. Both men appealed for their release as masked, armed men stood behind them.

The details of how Mr Yasuda was freed have remained murky, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, saying a ransom was paid. But Japan's government has denied that.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2018, with the headline 'Japanese journalist home after Syria kidnap 'hell''. Print Edition | Subscribe