Japanese journalist, missing in Syria since 2015, appears in new video

Yasuda in a screenshot from an earlier video after his capture.
Yasuda in a screenshot from an earlier video after his capture.SCREENSHOT: NHK WORLD

HONG KONG (NYTIMES) - A Japanese journalist who went missing in Syria three years ago and who is believed to be a hostage of terrorists appeared in a new video aired on Japanese television on Friday (July 6).

Jumpei Yasuda, a freelance reporter who often covered war zones, disappeared after travelling to Syria from Turkey in 2015, intending to cover the Syrian civil war.

He was believed to have been taken hostage by the Nusra Front, which now calls itself Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, a group known to capture foreigners for ransom.

Nippon News Network said it had obtained the video from a person connected to Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, whom it would not name, who told the network that it had been recorded by the group that captured Yasuda.

Another channel that obtained the video, ANN News, would not identify its source.

Neither channel broadcast the entire video.

Tarik Abdul Haq, a Syrian who has said he is in contact with Yasuda's captors, said in an exchange through Facebook Messenger that he had handled the sale of the video to Japanese channels for a commission, but declined to name his source.

In the video, Yasuda noted that it was October 2017, a reporter for Nippon News Network said in its broadcast, so it is not clear whether it reflected Yasuda's current condition.

His hair greyer and his beard longer since his last video appearance, Yasuda spoke to the camera against a black backdrop. Edited jerkily, the clip appeared to be stitched together from multiple takes and did not show Yasuda speaking continuously.

"I hope all of my family is fine," Yasuda said in the video. "I want to see you."

A few seconds later, a network voice-over in Japanese began summarising the video's contents, while continuing to show Yasuda speak.

The segment that ANN News broadcast showed him saying: "Don't forget. Don't give up."

Yasuda's wife, Myu Yasuda, told ANN News that she hoped he would make it home soon.

"His face looked a bit pale and he seems to have lost some weight," she said. "I am just hoping that he will soon return to Japan safely, safely, safely."

The State Department designated the Nusra Front a terrorist group in 2012 and renewed that designation this year to reflect the name Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham. The group declared its affiliation with Al-Qaeda in 2013, but claims to have cut those ties.

Jumpei Yasuda was last seen in a video in 2016, in which he addressed his family while sitting behind a table in a room with white walls. It was posted on social media by Abdul Haq.

Two months later, Japanese news organisations published a photograph showing Yasuda holding a handwritten note in Japanese that reads: "Please help. This is the last chance." A

Abdul Haq reportedly provided the photo, as well.

On Friday, Abdul Haq posted a screenshot of the latest video of Yasuda on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. He claimed to mediate on behalf of the group holding Yasuda captive, though he told the newspaper The Japan Times in late June that he had stopped negotiating the terms for Yasuda's release because the Japanese government had not responded to the demands of the hostage takers.

With the new video, Yasuda's captors could be signalling that they want to renew hostage bargaining.

In the past, the Japanese government has refused to pay ransom for hostages, and after the first video of Yasuda was posted online, Yoshihide Suga, a chief Cabinet secretary, reiterated the government's stance.

"We don't acknowledge a request for ransom money," he said.

The Japanese have also been unsympathetic to captives who go into danger zones and are taken hostage.