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Journalist's kidnappers may have learned from leaked info of his entry into Syria

Jumpei Yasuda

CAIRO -- A person with ties to a people-smuggling broker who helped journalist Jumpei Yasuda, 42, get into Syria has told people that he was involved in Yasuda's subsequent capture, according to a Syrian man who introduced Yasuda to the broker.

    The person who allegedly admitted his involvement is an acquaintance of the broker's relatives. While it is unknown whether the broker was directly involved in Yasuda's capture by the al-Nusra Front, considering that Yasuda was captured the day he arrived in Syria, the possibility arises that information of Yasuda's arrival was leaked from someone with ties to the broker.

    According to the Syrian man, in late June last year Yasuda crossed from Antakya in southern Turkey to Idlib Governorate in northwest Syria. The man advised Yasuda that he should give up his plan because it was too dangerous, but says that Yasuda said he knew the dangers and would only be in Idlib for a short while to gain news material. Yasuda asked for a broker's help in getting across the border and sneaked into Syria together with the broker to whom the man introduced him.

    The day the broker and Yasuda crossed the border, the man received a phone call from the broker saying that Yasuda had been captured by al-Nusra Front, which is affiliated with the international terrorist group al-Qaida. The broker was released by the group, but, the man says, the broker told him that al-Nusra Front told him not to mention their name, and to instead say that Yasuda was captured by Turkish authorities.

    The man says he was skeptical of the story the broker gave him, and when he questioned the broker again on another day, the broker admitted that one member of the group that captured Yasuda, a Syrian man, was an acquaintance of the broker's relatives. The man says that when he had the broker call that member of the group, he admitted to his involvement in the capture.

    It is unknown whether that member is also a member of al-Nusra Front. An insider source with al-Nusra Front told the Mainichi Shimbun that they had checked with a leading member of the organization, and said al-Nusra Front is not holding Yasuda captive. There is a possibility that low-ranking fighters in the organization acted on their own in capturing Yasuda.

    The man who introduced Yasuda to the broker was a friend of journalist Kenji Goto, who was killed by the extremist group Islamic State. The man says that after Goto's death, he got to know Yasuda.

    According to locals, armed groups including the al-Nusra Front and allied rebels have taken effective control over Idlib since the spring of last year, and several different armed forces have set up security checkpoints at key locations. It has been reported that in some cases passersby are made to pay tolls at these checkpoints. In addition, the area near the Syrian-Turkish border has become a hotbed of kidnapping of journalists and humanitarian aid workers by armed groups and criminal organizations seeking ransom money.

    Yasuda went missing in late June last year, but on March 16 a video was released of a man in captivity claiming to be Yasuda.

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