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Japanese journalist freed from Syrian captivity after three years

Japanese journalist freed from Syrian captivity after three years
Jumpei Yasuda of Japan is seen in Antakya, Turkey, on Oct. 24. (Huseyin Bozok / Associated Press)

A Japanese freelance journalist who was freed after more than three years of captivity in Syria said Wednesday he is safe in neighboring Turkey.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Japanese Embassy officials met with the journalist, Jumpei Yasuda, at an immigration center in southern Turkey near the border with Syria.

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"We are extremely pleased that we have confirmed the safety of Mr. Jumpei Yasuda," Kono told reporters.

Yasuda was kidnapped in 2015 by Al Qaeda's branch in Syria, known at the time as the Nusra Front, after contact with him was lost in June that year. A war monitoring group said he was most recently held by a Syrian commander with the Turkistan Islamic Party, which is largely made up of Chinese jihadis in Syria.

"My name is Jumpei Yasuda, Japanese journalist. I have been held in Syria for 40 months," Yasuda said, somewhat haltingly, in English in a video broadcast by Japan's NHK public television. "Now I am in Turkey. Now I am in safe condition. Thank you very much."

NHK said the video was shot inside the immigration center and was released by the local government in Turkey's Hatay province.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said, "Every effort is being made to ensure that the journalist is returned to his country," but would not provide information on the handover.

News of Yasuda's release came late Tuesday from Qatar, which helped in obtaining his freedom along with Turkey and other countries in the region, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Asked if any ransom was paid, Suga said, "There is no fact that ransom money was paid."

Yasuda's parents earlier said they couldn't wait to see their son return home.

"I was just praying for his safe return," his mother Sachiko Yasuda, 75, told NHK as she and her husband stood in front of their home outside Tokyo, holding a "thousand cranes" well-wishing origami ornament that she had added to every day for three years.

Yasuda started reporting on the Middle East in the early 2000s. He was taken hostage in Iraq in 2004 with three other Japanese, but was freed after Islamic clerics negotiated his release.

Syria has been one of the most dangerous places for journalists since the conflict there began in March 2011, with dozens killed or kidnapped.

Several journalists are still missing in Syria and their fates are unknown.

Those missing include Austin Tice of Houston, who disappeared in August 2012 while covering the conflict, which has killed approximately 400,000 people. A video released a month later showed him blindfolded and held by armed men, saying "Oh, Jesus." He has not been heard from since.

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