New video emerges of Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda, kidnapped in Syria in 2015

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

A new video emerged Friday of kidnapped Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda, who was abducted by an armed group in Syria just over three years ago while reporting on the country’s bloody civil war.

In the video, dated Oct. 17, 2017, Yasuda, 44, says in English that he is “fine” and adds that he hopes his family is doing well and wishes to see them soon.

“I just want to see you,” he says calmly to the camera. “I hope it’s soon.”

Asked about the video during a regular news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government was aware of the news and was working through all available routes to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals, but declined to give specifics on the case.

The video, obtained and first reported on by Nippon Television Network, is the first known footage of Yasuda since a May 2016 image was released showing him sporting a long beard and wearing an orange outfit resembling those worn by hostages held by the Islamic State group before they were beheaded.

That image, in which he is seen holding a sign in Japanese reading “Please help. This is the last chance,” was widely seen as a message to the Japanese government. The hostage-takers said at the time that Yasuda would be handed over to the Islamic State group unless the government began negotiations within a month.

According to the report, Yasuda is also heard telling the camera, “Don’t forget me” and “Don’t give up (on securing my release),” Nippon Television reported.

In what is likely another attempt to pressure the Japanese government, the report also quoted a source who has contacts with the group holding Yasuda as saying this week that his health has deteriorated and that his “present condition was very bad.”

The Japan Times could not independently view the video or confirm the source’s statement, but a Syrian man who had claimed to be a mediator negotiating the release of Yasuda in June 2016 and later said he had ended his involvement in the case, posted a photo from the video Friday and confirmed the video’s contents.

Yasuda is reportedly being held by an arm of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, an al-Qaida-linked militant group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front. The group is reportedly seeking a $10 million (¥1.1 billion) ransom.

Yasuda went missing after entering Syria from neighboring Turkey in June 2015. Video footage of him reading a message to his family was also posted on Facebook in March 2016.

The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, with the aid of Russia, has in recent years recaptured large swaths of the country that had been taken by rebels during the country’s bloody six-year-long civil war. The shifting ground and targeting of extremist groups by Syrian, Russian and U.S. airstrikes has also left Yasuda in a precarious situation, with some observers fearing the group he is being held by could be caught up in a bombing raid.

Staff writer Tomohiro Osaki contributed to this report