KILIS, TURKEY – A Japanese man believed to have been captured in northern Syria by Islamic State militants said he came to the conflict-ravaged country in preparation for his plan to supply rebels fighting the Assad regime, a rebel leader said Monday.
Haruna Yukawa, 42, reportedly said he wanted to open an office in Turkey, which borders Syria, to bring supplies to rebels. Yukawa also said he planned to follow the movements of the Syrian military as well as the Islamic State, a militant group operating in Iraq and Syria, according to the regional leader of the Islamic Front, a rival rebel group to the Islamic State.
There is information that the Islamic State may still be holding Yukawa in Al-Bab, a suburban city outside of Aleppo, the rebel leader told Kyodo News in Kilis, southern Turkey, citing a tip from the Free Syrian Army, another rebel group.
A Japanese government source said, “We are trying to verifying various information and cannot say anything definitive.”
The Islamic Front said it is seeking the release of Yukawa and its members captured by the Islamic State through “hostage exchanges” using the Islamic State militants it has been holding as leverage.
On Aug. 14, Yukawa was with fighters from the Islamic Front and the Free Syrian Army in Marea, about 30 km north of Aleppo, when fighting broke out between the joint party and the Islamic State, according to a FSA officer.
The Japanese national likely got left behind as the party retreated, and may have even mistakenly run toward the enemy combatants in the confusion, the FSA officer said.
The Islamic Front regional leader had originally said Yukawa was captured on Aug. 15 but later corrected the date to Aug. 14.
A statement posted online by Monday claims Islamic State intelligence officers had captured a Japanese spy named Haruna Yukawa, but it does not disclose Yukawa’s current condition and its authenticity has not been confirmed.
Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki told reporters Tuesday in Tokyo that the government was working to gather information on the matter and that the ministry was looking into the purported Islamic State statement.
The Japanese government has reached out to organizations, including militant groups, outside of Syria with ties to the Islamic State for cooperation on the matter, a government source said Tuesday under condition of anonymity.
The Japanese Embassy in Syria has been operating out of neighboring Jordan since 2012 due to the escalating conflict between the Syrian government and rebel groups, leaving them to rely on other organizations on the ground in Syria for intelligence gathering.
A man believed to be Yukawa left a passport and three pieces of paper at an Islamic Front base outside Aleppo, northern Syria, according to the Islamic Front leader.
Although incomprehensible in places, the pieces of paper bear messages written in English, Arabic and Japanese that appear to explain his intention to aid forces fighting to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
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