BAGDAD – Two Japanese civilians were apparently abducted Wednesday in suburban Baghdad — just one day before three other Japanese taken hostage last week were released.
The pair, a witness reported, were in a taxi when they were stopped by other cars and snatched by gunmen.
One of the two Japanese is believed to be Jumpei Yasuda, a 30-year-old freelance journalist, while the other is believed to be Yasuda’s roommate, Nobutaka Watanabe, a 36-year-old member of the nongovernmental organization Trans-Pacific GI/SDF Rights Hotline.
Yasuda and Watanabe failed to return to their Baghdad apartment Wednesday, prompting fears that they had either been kidnapped or involved in some other incident.
Government officials in Tokyo said Thursday afternoon they were still trying to gather information about the suspected kidnapping, which came a week after three Japanese were taken hostage by a group identifying itself as Saraya al-Mujahideen, which has demanded the withdrawal of Self-Defense Forces troops from Iraq.
The three were released by their captors and were confirmed safe in Baghdad Thursday.
Japanese journalist Juichi Tabo, who is working in Iraq, received an e-mail from an Iraqi friend Wednesday stating he had witnessed the pair being snatched by gunmen.
The two were traveling in a taxi to take photos of a U.S. military helicopter that crashed Tuesday near Abu-Greib, west of Baghdad, according to the e-mail message and other information.
They were followed by a car, ordered to pull over and then surrounded by three other vehicles. They were then seized by gunmen.
The Iraqi friend was in the same cab but was released along with the driver. When confronted by the gunmen, the driver claimed the two Japanese were Chinese, but the group noticed one of the two was carrying a Japanese passport and figured both were from Japan, according to the e-mail.
The e-mail, in English, identified the Japanese as “Watanabe” and “Janbe Yasuda.”
It was later found that Yasuda and Watanabe had not returned to their Baghdad flat as of 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Japan time. A personal computer bearing Yasuda’s name was in the room.
Yasuda was contributing articles and photos from Baghdad to the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper.
When a Tokyo Shimbun editorial staff member called Yasuda’s cell phone early Thursday Japan time, the phone had been switched off, according to the daily.
The families of Yasuda and Watanabe voiced worry and said they need any information they can get.
“I just want to have information,” Yasuda’s father said.
Speaking to reporters at his home in Iruma, Saitama Prefecture, the father said, “I’m worried, but there’s nothing I can do until I find out whether he has been captured.
“Our family all opposed his going to Iraq. Junpei is cautious, but he is a person who does not listen once he has made up his mind.”
When Yasuda’s father last received a call from his son Monday night, he sounded in good spirits, he added.
Watanabe’s parents in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, said they did not even know their son was in Iraq until they got a call from the Foreign Ministry around 4:30 a.m., adding that they hope their son is safe.