Journalist ‘had no doubt I was going to be killed’

Kyodo News

The freelance journalist released Saturday after going missing in Afghanistan in late March returned to Japan on Monday evening, saying he “braced for an execution” during his more than five months in captivity.

On his arrival at Kansai International Airport in Osaka Prefecture aboard an Emirates flight from Dubai, Kosuke Tsuneoka, 41, told reporters, “During the first two months in captivity, I had no doubt I was going to be killed.”

Tsuneoka denied that his kidnappers were Taliban insurgents as claimed by Afghan security authorities. He said his abductors were “a group of corrupt armed factions” in northeastern Afghanistan.

Tsuneoka said he saw some local civilians, with their hands and legs tied, lying in a pool of blood.

“I realized that they had been executed,” he said. “Then I thought I would be the next.”

From Kansai International, Tsuneoka was scheduled to fly to Tokyo and return to his home.

Before his arrival in Japan, Tsuneoka posted messages on his Twitter account providing details about his abductors.

Tsuneoka said the factions in Kunduz and Takhar provinces who kidnapped him pretended to be Taliban and “tried to extort” the Japanese government. He said Afghan authorities were unable to publicize this because the group’s commander is very close to the Afghan government.

Tsuneoka said he believes he survived because the group’s elders, whom he described as “totally corrupt,” couldn’t justify putting him to death and faced growing criticism from subordinates, who were “good people.”

Afghan security officials said in June that Taliban militants had demanded the Afghan government pay a ransom for Tsuneoka and that negotiations were under way to pay several hundred thousand dollars in return for his release.

A Taliban commander in Kunduz, where Tsuneoka was last seen before he went missing, has claimed responsibility for holding the journalist, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency said Sunday, citing an interview with the commander.

The Japanese Embassy in Kabul said the kidnappers’ affiliation still wasn’t clear.

Muneo Suzuki, a Diet member who was visiting Kabul, said when he returned to Narita International Airport via New Delhi that Afghan President Hamid Karzai “worked behind the scenes to save the life” of Tsuneoka.

Suzuki said on his website Sunday that when he met with Tsuneoka at the embassy, the journalist looked fine and that the past five months he had spent in captivity didn’t show. He said Tsuneoka told him the kidnappers were from an armed faction, but his captors had been kind.

Tsuneoka told embassy officials that he received no rough treatment and was given mostly nan bread and tea for meals but sometimes meat, according to the embassy.

Tsuneoka disappeared in late March while traveling in Kunduz to interview senior Taliban officials. Tsuneoka’s friends received a message April 1 saying he had been kidnapped.

On Friday, two English-language messages posted on his Twitter account, the first since April 1, read, “i am still allive, but in jail,” and “here is archi in kunduz. in the jail of commander lativ.”

The Afghan Islamic Press reported Sunday that Tsuneoka was released in the Dasht-e-Archi district of Kunduz and quoted the Kunduz commander as saying, “We treated him very well. He would vouch for this.”