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Reporter Yasuda's whereabouts still unknown: Syrian who tried to negotiate release

Jumpei Yasuda (Mainichi)

CAIRO -- A Syrian man who posted a photo online of a man thought to be Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda, missing since June 2015 and feared abducted in Syria, does not know Yasuda's whereabouts, he has told the Mainichi Shimbun in an interview.

The man, who now lives in Turkey, said his talks to free Yasuda two years ago failed and he had since backed away from the situation. He added the situation of Syria remains dangerous, and that there is no reliable information on Yasuda's fate. The man posted the online photo of the man believed to be Yasuda in March 2016.

According to the man, Yasuda was abducted by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, a militant group affiliated with al-Qaeda previously known as the "Al-Nusra Front," for ransom in June 2015 shortly after he entered Idlib province in northwestern Syria from Hatay province in southern Turkey. The man claimed that he failed to secure the release of Yasuda because the Japanese government refused to comply with the militant organization's demands. However, it is unclear whether his claims are true.

So far, there has been no confirmed claim of responsibility for the abduction.

The man said he had obtained the photo he posted from a figure linked to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

Another Syrian man in his 40s with links to the militant group said Yasuda was in Aleppo at one point, but that this information was more than two years old. If the man's testimony is correct, then there is a possibility that Yasuda has been moving from one place to another in northern Syria.

Idlib province is one of the few strongholds left for anti-government forces fighting against the Syrian administration of Bashar Assad. This year, Syrian forces began fierce attacks on anti-government forces' positions in the outskirts of Damascus, and most of the rebels have moved to Idlib.

An anti-government activist living in Idlib told the Mainichi that the number of cases where militant groups abduct people has sharply decreased since a year ago because Turkish and Russian forces monitoring a cease-fire there have stepped up checkpoint inspections.

However, the activist pointed out that militant groups would never release their hostages unless they get a ransom or some political benefit.

On May 30, 2016 Japan time, an image showing a man believed to be Yasuda holding a piece of paper saying, "Please help me. This is the last chance -- Jumpei Yasuda" was discovered online. No picture or video of a person believed to be the journalist has been released since.

(Japanese original by Koichi Shinoda, Cairo Bureau)

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