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Japanese reporter detained in Iraq to be released soon, Kurdish media says

Kyodo, Staff Report

Journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka, who has been detained by local authorities in Iraq while covering the battle to retake the Islamic State-held city of Mosul, is likely to be released soon, the local Kurdish media outlet Rudaw said Tuesday.

Earlier, the Japanese Foreign Ministry confirmed that the 47-year-old reporter had been taken into custody by Kurdish peshmerga forces, who are cooperating with the Iraqi military, backed by the U.S.-led coalition, to retake the northern city amid fierce fighting.

Citing sources close to Kurdish authorities, Rudaw said Tsuneoka was likely to be handed over to Japanese officials soon. No further details were immediately available.

During a regular news briefing Tuesday in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan has confirmed Tsuneoka’s detention and asked that the Japanese consul in Iraq be allowed to meet him.

Tokyo has asked that Tsuneoka be treated “properly,” Suga said.

Suga meanwhile urged Japanese citizens not to enter Iraq “whatever reasons they may have,” citing the perilous security conditions there. Tokyo has asked journalists not to venture into the war-torn country.

An expert on Middle Eastern affairs said that it was unlikely that Tsuneoka would be harmed by peshmerga fighters, who make up a part of the front-line forces battling Islamic State militants.

Osamu Miyata, head of the Center for Contemporary Islamic Studies in Japan, said Tsuneoka may have been detained on suspicion of being a spy for a group that opposes the Kurds.

While his captivity may stoke memories of the abduction and execution last year of two Japanese hostages, Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, by Islamic State extremists, Miyata said chances are extremely slim that the peshmerga would seriously harm or demand a ransom for Tsuneoka.

“I’m doubtful that (peshmerga forces) would try to behead Tsuneoka, as the Islamic State group did to Kenji Goto,” he said. “But if he were suspected of being a spy who stole classified information … he may be subject to some kind of punishment based on the group’s own law.”

A Twitter account believed to be managed by Tsuneoka was last updated Thursday with some posts indicating he is in Iraq.

The journalist previously covered fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was abducted by a militant group in Afghanistan in April 2010 and freed unhurt that September after a five-month hostage ordeal at the hands of Hizb-i-Islami.

After he returned to Japan, Tsuneoka said he had “braced for his execution” during the months in captivity.

He subsequently became known in Japan for his expertise on Islamic-related issues.