UPDATES WITH COMMENTS BY REPORTER’S MOTHER
TOKYO (AA) – Tokyo announced Monday that efforts to gather information have been accelerated after the release of a photo believed to show a Japanese journalist reportedly held by al-Qaeda-affiliated militants in Syria.
In the image, a longhaired and bearded man wearing an orange shirt holds a handwritten Japanese message saying, "Please help. This is the last chance. Jumpei Yasuda."
Japanese news agency Kyodo cited Monday a source familiar with Yasuda's case as saying that an alleged mediator for a group that captured the 42-year-old last year sent copies of the photo to several media outlets.
The source said the photo was taken Saturday by the al-Nusra Front, the group that is allegedly now holding Yasuda and has reportedly threatened to hand him over to Daesh if the Japanese side does not begin negotiations with them.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Monday that authorities were “continuing to analyze the image”, confirming that they believed the man in the image was indeed the freelance journalist.
“Securing the safety of Japanese overseas is the Japanese government's most important responsibility and we are using various information networks to deal with the matter with utmost efforts," Kyodo quoted him as saying.
In December, France-based Reporters Without Borders said Yasuda had traveled to Syria to write about the beheading of his friend and colleague Kenji Goto in late January.
A video of Yasuda in captivity was uploaded to Facebook in March.
On Monday, his mother told reporters at her home north of Tokyo that she had learned of the photo’s release while watching the morning news.
“I believe it is him. I am still shaking,” The Asahi Shimbun newspaper quoted her as saying.
“There has been no development since the video of March. I can only quietly await the result,” she said.
Toshifumi Fujimoto, another Japanese national who has been following the Syrian war in recent years, underlined the concerns sparked by the sign being written in Japanese.
“That was likely meant as a direct message to Japan,” the 49-year-old who has been accompanying the Free Syrian Army said. “If it is a sign of irritation aimed at the Japanese government for not negotiating, I would be worried about Yasuda’s safety.”