A 26-year-old university student suspected of preparing to join Islamic State militants in Syria had been planning to leave Japan for the Middle East on Tuesday, but police started questioning him the day before, an investigative source said.
The student, who is on a leave of absence from Hokkaido University and lives in Tokyo, was questioned Monday on a voluntary basis by the Metropolitan Police Department’s public security bureau. Officers also conducted raids at multiple locations in Tokyo.
The man, whose name was not released, had pulled out of an earlier plan to go to the Middle East in August, the police source said.
He is thought to have responded to a “help wanted” poster in a used bookstore in Tokyo’s Akihabara district.
The poster directed people interested in working in Syria to the shop clerk. It also said a monthly wage of 15,000 Chinese renminbi (about $2,400) was payable for people “not afraid of violence” to work alongside Uighurs.
The university student was quoted as telling an investigator that he was planning to join the Islamic State and to fight alongside the group. It is unknown if he has ever previously visited Syria.
He is suspected of violating a Penal Code provision that stipulates punishment by imprisonment of three months to five years for people who prepare or plot to wage war against a foreign state in a personal capacity.
The source said the man abandoned his earlier plan to go in the summer because of a disagreement with others in his circle and later began new preparations, including buying an air ticket to Syria. His departure would have been Tuesday.
On Sunday afternoon, police raided the home of Kosuke Tsuneoka in Nakano Ward, Tokyo, on suspicion the journalist had a role in mediating between the student and the group. Tsuneoka is reputed to be acquainted with an Islamic State commander.
“They raided his home Sunday, and confiscated everything that contained data, from PCs, USB memory sticks, cameras, mobile phones — just about everything,” Hitoshi Takase, a journalist friend of Tsuneoka, said Tuesday. “Mr. Tsuneoka thinks the police see him as having a key role in taking the student to Islamic State, or that they maybe want to obtain information about Islamic State from him.”
According to Takase, the person who put up the poster in Akihabara — whom Takase says he does not know — introduced the student and another male who responded to the poster, to Ko Nakata, a friend of Tsuneoka’s. Nakata, a visiting professor at Kyoto’s Doshisha University, allegedly brought the two men to Tsuneoka and asked him to accompany them on their journey to join Islamic State forces and write a story about it.
He said the other male gave up on the plan after his parents stopped him during his first attempt to head to Syria.
Judging from video footage of Tsuneoka interviewing the student on Aug. 5, Takase said the Hokkaido University student is not particularly knowledgeable about the activities of Islamic State or the situation in the Middle East, and was not particularly keen on fighting as an Islamic State combatant.
“He thinks his life as a student is like a kind of story, and explains he wanted to go to the Middle East because he wanted to put himself in a different situation,” Takase said. “He said he wouldn’t mind being killed in combat because he planned to commit suicide within a year anyway.”
Takase is a long-time journalistic partner with Tsuneoka, and assists him as a producer when Tsuneoka provides video material to TV stations.
On Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that the government will prevent Japanese citizens from supporting terrorist and extremist groups.
“In line with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2178 and as a member of the international community, we will proactively take measures to prevent terrorism in advance,” he said.
The resolution, adopted unanimously by the Security Council on Sept. 24, calls on U.N. member states to prevent the “recruiting, organizing, transporting or equipping of individuals who travel to a state other than their states of residence or nationality for the purpose of the perpetration, planning of, or participation in terrorist acts.”
Referring to the allegation the student had been preparing to travel to Syria to join the extremist group, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that Japan “will steadily take measures to curb extremists.”
Citing the U.N. resolution, Kishida said the government is determined, in line with domestic law, to block Japanese nationals from traveling to Syria, Iraq or other countries in pursuit of terrorist acts, and from offering financial resources to terrorists and extremists groups.
Former Air Self-Defense Force chief Toshio Tamogami last month quoted a senior Israeli government official as saying that nine Japanese nationals had joined Islamic State. Suga has said the government has not confirmed this information.
About 1,000 recruits from a vast region stretching from India to the Pacific may have joined Islamic State to fight in Syria or Iraq, the head of the U.S. Armed Forces’ Pacific Command, Adm. Samuel Locklear, said last month.
The Hokkaido University student shares a detached house in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, with several other people. A man there said he got to know the student through the Internet and that they had lived together for about two months. He said he didn’t recall ever talking with him about the Islamic State group.
A neighbor said young people have lived at the address for several years.
The investigative source said the student apparently responded to the poster in the bookstore in the spring.
The public security bureau received a tip about the poster and launched an investigation, the source said.
On Monday night, the bookstore said it was uninvolved but acknowledged it had been targeted by the raid.
“We never imagined the ‘help wanted’ notice had to do with Islamic State,” a male assistant at the shop said.
He said a Japanese acquaintance of the shopkeeper had put up the poster near the shop’s entrance soon after the store, on the first floor of a building near JR Akihabara Station, opened in April.
The man gave the shop a phone number for people to call if anyone asked for information, and a few people inquired about it, the shop said.
Public security bureau investigators confiscated the poster, data in the shop’s PC and employee time sheets.