Suspicions have deepened that a man from Saitama Prefecture missing since 1976 was kidnapped to North Korea, an affiliate of the citizens’ group NARKN said Monday.

The group investigates suspected abductions of Japanese nationals to the reclusive state.

It said it suspects Susumu Fujita, who was 19 at the time he disappeared, was abducted to North Korea because a man in a photograph brought from North Korea six months ago by a man who escaped the North and went to China, closely resembles Fujita.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda indicated the government would fully investigate Fujita’s case. If the facts are confirmed, he suggested Tokyo would officially count Fujita as one of the Japanese it believes were abducted to North Korea.

Fujita was a freshman at Tokyo Gakugei University when he vanished in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, on Feb. 7, 1976, after leaving home for Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, where he worked part time as a security guard, according to the group and his relatives.

Fujita’s case brought the number of Japanese citizens the group strongly believes were abducted by North Korea to 32.

The group, the Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea, an affiliate of the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, has been investigating cases of missing Japanese with the possibility that they might have been kidnapped to North Korea.

The commission said it obtained the photo, which the North Korean man claimed was that of an abducted Japanese citizen, in early July via a Japanese media organization.

The North Korean man had given the photo to another escapee from the country who now lives in South Korea.

The commission said the man’s eyes and lips in the photo were identical with those of a photo of Fujita, and that it will soon get the results of an expert analysis.

“I have not been able to call (Fujita) an abduction victim, but from now on I want to join the movement to take back all the abduction victims,” Fujita’s younger brother, Takashi, 46, told a news conference.

The commission, along with lawyers supporting activities related to missing Japanese citizens, submitted a petition to the Cabinet Office calling on the government to officially recognize the 32 people as abductees.

The government currently sees 15 Japanese as victims of North Korean abductions in the 1970s and 1980s. Five returned to Japan in 2002.

North Korea says eight of the remaining 10 are dead and that there is no record of the other two having entered the country.

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