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Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda freed after 3 years in Syria

Yasuda was released and transferred to an immigration facility in Turkey, a Japanese government spokesman said.

TOKYO — A Japanese freelance journalist who went missing in Syria three years ago and was held hostage is believed to have been freed, Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday evening.

Qatari officials notified the Japanese government on Tuesday evening in Japan that Jumpei Yasuda would be released, Suga said. An hour and a half later, they sent word that he had been freed and was at an immigration facility in Antakya, Turkey, next to the border with Syria.

Image: Jumpei Yasuda
Japanese freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda in May 2016, holding a handwritten sign in Japanese that reads: "Please help. This is the last chance." Jiji Press / AFP - Getty Images file

“While we are currently in the process of identifying him thru Turkish authorities, considering all the various information available we believe with high probability that this might indeed be Jumpei Yasuda, and we have noticed his wife,” Suga said.

Yasuda's whereabouts have been the subject of speculation since he disappeared near the Syrian border in June 2015. The Japanese government has never said who was holding Yasuda.

The non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders posted on its website in December 2015 that Yasuda had allegedly been detained by an armed group affiliated with Nusra Front, but it later retracted the information.

Two years ago, a photo was released showing the journalist dressed in an orange shirt and holding up a sign in Japanese that read: "Please help me. This is the last chance."

The Kyodo news agency said the image was circulated by a person who asserted that Yasuda was being held by the Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda-linked militant group in Syria.

This summer, Yasuda appeared in several hostage videos. His wife held a press conference after the second video was released, saying that she was frightened for his safety.

Arata Yamamoto reported from Tokyo and Rachel Elbaum reported from London.