It has been almost a year since the Japanese journalist, Jumpei Yasuda, disappeared from the Syrian border, near the rebel-held city of Idlib in June 2015. Since then, Mr. Yasuda’s whereabouts have been unknown, and whilst it has been clear for some time now that he was kidnapped by one of the rebel groups operating in the region, there has been no clear confirmation of which of these is responsible; in December, Reporters Without Borders claimed that a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise ‘Al-Nusra Front’ was behind the kidnapping, but this statement was later retracted. Nevertheless, though it may still be unclear who is currently holding Mr. Yasuda hostage, or who kidnapped him in the first place, Al-Nusra front is currently involved in handling his case and negotiating for his ransom.
The unusual paucity of information regarding this case has been interrupted only twice during the past year, with one video allegedly showing Mr. Yasuda speaking in English, and more recently a photo released by Japan’s Jiji Press news agency showing the journalist holding a placard that reads: “Please help me. This is the last chance.”
Whilst the release of this latest photo has received much in terms of international media attention, exactly why this desperate message has been released now, and what is meant by it, remains unclear. However, new information on the case, obtained by Al-Masdar’s local sources in areas held by Al-Nusra front, may shed some light on this.
Our sources suggest that Al-Nusra’s mediators are now threatening to include Mr. Yasuda in a prisoner-swap deal with ISIS if Japan doesn’t pay his ransom (the rival ‘caliphates’ of Al-Nusra and ISIS often trade prisoners that they have captured from one another in battle), a claim that Japan’s Kyodo news agency has also reported from another unnamed source. This may explain why this might be ‘the last chance’ for the Japanese government to secure Mr. Yasuda’s release; historically, there has been more success in negotiating the release of foreign journalists with Al-Nusra – often with mediation by Qatar – than there has been with ISIS.
Kidnappings and ransom collection constitute a significant source of income for the various Islamist factions that are active in Syria. Most of the victims of these kidnappings are Syrian civilians, but foreign journalists are higher-profile targets with potentially much larger ransoms.