Japan reporter freed from Syria happy to go home from ‘hell’
TOKYO — A Japanese journalist freed from captivity in Syria said he is happy to be going home after living in “hell” for more than three years, but is worried about how he will catch up with a changed world.
Kidnapped in 2015 by al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, Jumpei Yasuda was expected to return home 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.”
Yasuda said he felt as if he’d fallen behind the rest of the world and was uncertain how to catch up.
He described his 40 months in captivity as “hell” both physically and mentally. He said he was kept in a tiny cell and tortured. There was a time when he was not allowed to bathe for eight months, he said.
“Day after day, I thought ‘Oh I can’t go home again,’ and the thought took over my head and gradually made it difficult for me to control myself,” he said.
Yasuda was kidnapped by a 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.
Yasuda said he believes he was moved several times during his captivity but stayed in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, where he sometimes heard distant firebombing.
“I was living in endless fear that I may never get out of it or could even be killed,” Yasuda told another Japanese broadcaster, TBS. He said he gradually became pessimistic about his fate because his captors kept breaking their promises to release him.
His release Tuesday came suddenly when his captors drove him to the border with Turkey and dropped him off and handed him over to Turkish authorities, he said.
Japanese officials say Qatar and Turkey helped in the efforts for Yasuda’s release, though their exact roles were not clear.
Yasuda, a respected journalist who began his career at a local newspaper, started reporting on the Middle East in the early 2000s and went to Afghanistan and Iraq. He was taken hostage in Iraq in 2004 with three other Japanese, but was freed after Islamic clerics negotiated his release.
He worked as a cook in Iraq for nearly a year as part of his research for a 2010 book about laborers in war zones. He also wrote articles about his 2004 captivity.
But this time, his captors took away all his reporting equipment including his camera, depriving him of any tangible records.
“I was robbed of all my luggage, and that made me so angry,” Yasuda said. “I couldn’t do any of my work for 40 months.”
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 there began in March 2011, with dozens killed or kidnapped.
Several journalists are still missing in Syria and their fates are unknown.