CAIRO - A new image believed to be that of freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda, who went missing in Syria last year, surfaced Sunday night, depicting a bearded man holding a sign in Japanese saying “Please help. This is the last chance.”
The image was sent to multiple media outlets by a Syrian man claiming to be a mediator for the group that is believed to be holding the 42-year-old.
The Syrian asserts that Yasuda is being held by the Nusra Front, an al-Qaida-linked militant group in Syria, and that the photo was taken by the group on Saturday.
The man in the image is wearing an orange shirt and sports a long beard and hair. The handwritten message he is holding is signed “Jumpei Yasuda.”
The same Syrian posted a video on Facebook in March indicating Yasuda could be a hostage of militants in Syria. The Syrian told The Japan Times at the time that the video was received from a person representing the Nusra Front.
The man also said the group had repeatedly contacted the Japanese government to seek a ransom in exchange for Yasuda’s release, and that the video was released after Tokyo demanded proof he was alive and being detained by the group.
According to the Syrian man, the Nusra Front has threatened to hand Yasuda over to Islamic State militants if the Japanese government won’t negotiate.
Following the photo’s release, officials in the Japanese government said they were stepping up efforts to gather the latest information on the situation.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the government was analyzing the new photo and believed it is in fact of Yasuda, while Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said officials are doing everything they can.
“As preserving the safety of Japanese citizens is our most important duty, we are making use of a broad net of information and doing everything we can to respond,” Suga told a news conference.
Asked if this means contacting the Nusra Front, Suga said “that sort of thing was included” but declined to give further details.
The government also decided to speed up information gathering as it held a director general-level meeting of related ministries and agencies headed by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary for Crises Yasuhiko Nishimura, government sources said.
The police have also started analyzing the image, believing it to be that of Yasuda, a senior official said.