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Family, friends hope missing Japanese journalist will be freed

Family members and friends have expressed hope that freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda, who went missing in Syria, will be freed, after video indicating that he could be held by militants as a hostage surfaced online.

Yasuda's mother who lives in Saitama Prefecture said she is sure that the person in the video is her 42-year-old son.

"I saw the image early this morning. The person shown in the video is him," she said. "The only thing I can do now is pray for his safety and wait."

His mother said she has gotten neither explanation about her son's situation from the government or other organizations nor information that ransom has been demanded for his freedom.

Journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka, 46, who had closely communicated with Yasuda until the latter went to Syria in June last year, said, "There was information that Mr. Yasuda is alive, but it's now been confirmed. He appeared to have been forced to read what had been written by someone else. There's no specific demand from those who are confining him. I have the impression that the culprits lost patience and released a nonsensical image."

Journalist Ryoji Fujiwara, 48, said, "Mr. Yasuda doesn't appear to be worn out because of poor health. In the first half of his message to his family, I think he spoke in his own words, but I have the impression that the last half had been prepared by someone else.

National Police Agency (NPA) chief Masahito Kanetaka said the agency is trying to confirm the content of the video.

"We're analyzing its content. We refrain from commenting on the details of the analysis, but we are working with the Foreign Ministry and other relevant organizations in gathering information," he said.

The NPA is trying to confirm whether the man in the video is Yasuda and when it was filmed.

A native of Saitama Prefecture, Yasuda became freelance in 2003 after working as a reporter at the Shinano Mainichi Shimbun local daily in Nagano Prefecture. Since then he has mainly covered wars.

In Iraq where the U.S.-led war was going on, Yasuda covered ordinary citizens who were living amid political unrest, and conveyed their harsh living environment through his books and lecture meetings.

He was confined by militants on April 14, 2004, along with another Japanese national while he was traveling by car in the outskirts of Baghdad in a bid to gather news on U.S. airstrikes. He was released three days later.

Yasuda subsequently said the militants suspected that he was spying for the United States and confined him at a private home. He recalled that the militants confined him in order to confirm his identity, adding that the group treated him politely.

Yasuda went to Iraq again and covered migrant workers from all over the world who were playing an important role in reconstructing the country hit hard by the war. Based on his activities, he authored a book, "Rupo: Senjo Dekasegi Rodosha" ("Reportage: Migrant workers in battlefield") published by Shueisha Inc.

"To grasp the situation of war, which is murder and destruction by a state, it's indispensable to go to the battlefield," he wrote in the book.

Osamu Miyata, president of the Center for Contemporary Islamic Studies in Japan, said there is hope that Yasuda will be released.

He pointed out that the Nusra Front, which is believed to be confining Yasuda, is in severe condition after getting involved in a fierce conflict with the Islamic State (IS) militant group and Russia and has been repeatedly attacked.

"The group may have released the video of Yasuda in order to break the deadlock," Miyata said.

The Nusra Front abducted 16 Greek nuns and a U.S. journalist, but reportedly released all of them later through mediation by Qatar.

"The possibility is slim that the group will commit a brutal crime like the IS. There is a high possibility that Yasuda will be freed if negotiations are to be held through Qatar.

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