Syrian deputy minister seeks anti-terrorism cooperation with Japan

Kyodo, AP

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad proposed in a recent interview that Japan deepen cooperation with his country to deal with the terrorist threat that the Islamic State group poses to the Japanese people.

“We call upon the Japanese government to cooperate with us in the battle against terrorism. … Syria has a treasure of information on terrorists,” Mekdad told Kyodo News, becoming the first high-level Syrian regime official to meet with Japanese media after a hostage crisis involving two Japanese earlier this year.

He also said the government of President Bashar Assad did its “best” to investigate the whereabouts of the two Japanese men, Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto, but “did not get any information” about them.

“Nobody has informed us about their arrest, about their place of detention and so on,” Mekdad said. “That’s why, unfortunately, we could not do anything.”

Islamic State militants are believed to have killed the two men, and in an online video they threatened “carnage” wherever Japanese are found.

Mekdad said there are places in northern Syria where the government cannot be “present” because they are controlled by the extremist group. He also said Syria will immediately contact Japan if his government learns the whereabouts of the two men’s bodies.

As for ways to deepen ties between Syria and Japan, Mekdad proposed reopening the Japanese Embassy in Damascus, which was closed three years ago amid deteriorating security in the country.

Characterizing the U.S.-led coalition’s airstrikes on the Islamic State group as “cosmetic,” he said the most effective way to combat the extremists is through ground operations conducted by the Syrian and Iraqi armies.

The Syrian civil war has claimed over 220,000 lives, according to United Nations estimates.