Japanese journalist freed from Syria happy to be home after ‘hell’

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A Japanese journalist freed from captivity in Syria said he is happy to be home after living in “hell” for more than three years.

Kidnapped in 2015 by al Qaida’s branch in Syria, Jumpei Yasuda returned home on Thursday after he was released and taken to Turkey this week.

“I’m so happy to be free,” he told Japan’s NHK television on a flight from Antakya in southern Turkey to Istanbul. “But I’m a bit worried about what will happen to me or what I should do from now on.”

Mr Yasuda said he felt as if he had fallen behind the rest of the world and was uncertain how to catch up.

Jumpei Yasuda, centre, is driven away from an immigration centre in Antakya, Turkey
Jumpei Yasuda, centre, is driven away from an immigration centre in Antakya, Turkey (Yosuke Mizuno/Kyodo News/AP)

“Day after day, I thought, ‘Oh, I couldn’t go home again’, and the thought takes over my head and gradually made it difficult for me to control myself,” he said.

Mr Yasuda was kidnapped by the group known at the time as Nusra Front. A war monitoring group said he was most recently held by a Syrian commander with the Turkistan Islamic Party, which mostly comprises Chinese jihadis in Syria.

He said he believed he was moved around a few times during his captivity but stayed in Syria’s north-western province of Idlib, where firebombing was rare.

“I was living in endless fear that I may never get out of it or could even be killed,” he told another Japanese broadcaster, TBS.

Jumpei Yasuda's parents outside their home in Iruma
Jumpei Yasuda’s parents outside their home in Iruma (Kyodo News/AP)

Japanese officials said Qatar and Turkey helped in the effort for his release, though their exact roles were not known.

A respected journalist who started his career at a local newspaper, Mr Yasuda started reporting on the Middle East in early 2000s. He was taken hostage in Iraq in 2004 with three other Japanese citizens, but was freed after Islamic clerics negotiated his release.

His last work in Syria involved reporting on his friend Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist who was taken hostage and killed by the Islamic State group.

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

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

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