NewsWorld
SYRIA CONFLICT

Japanese national held by Islamic State in Syria

Video clip posted on YouTube shows man with same name as security firm boss being questioned by unidentified persons and responding that he was Japanese

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 1:08pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 10:20pm

Japan has received information that one of its citizens has been captured in northern Syria by the Islamic State militant group and is analysing it, the foreign ministry said on Monday.

A video clip posted earlier on YouTube showed a man lying on the ground being questioned by unidentified persons and responding that he was Japanese and that his name was Haruna Yukawa.

The name is the same as that of a chief executive of a self-described private mercenary and security firm. No one answered the telephone at the Tokyo-based company.

In the video clip, the authenticity of which could not be independently verified, the man can be heard being asked in English, “Why do you have a gun?” But his answer is inaudible.

Kyodo reported that the man is believed to have been travelling with a rival jihadist militant group.

According to a regional leader of the Islamic Front, the man, who left behind a passport identifying him as Haruna Yukawa, 42, had gone to report on the conflict between the two groups on Friday after entering Syria from the Turkish border near Kilis on July 28.

The Islamic State has not responded to the Islamic Front’s calls for Yukawa’s release and likely seeks to extort a ransom from the Japanese government, the regional leadersaid.

A Facebook posting by the head of the Japanese security firm on July 11 shows him test firing an assault rifle in what he says is Aleppo, Syria. His Facebook page also shows pictures purporting to be from the Iraqi border. In a series of pictures, he poses in an armoured vehicle and complains of the heat.

The firm was set up in January and according to its filing with the Japanese government, engages in a range of business from website design and pet food sales to security services.

An adviser to the firm, Nobuo Kimoto,said that Yukawa had travelled to Syria earlier this year "because he thought it would be useful for his work". Kimoto, a regional representative of nationalist group "Gambare Nippon" (Stand Firm, Japan) also said Yukawa was active in the group.

Kimoto said he had lost contact with Yukawa around mid-July.

Several video clips filmed in Syria and Iraq have been posted to YouTube in recent months by a poster named Haruna Yukawa. 

"This is an area where a various groups are carrying out battle. We are focusing on confirming if such capturing has really taken place, as well as the safety of the captured," a Japanese foreign ministry official said. The official added the ministry was not aware that any group had claimed responsibility for the capture or of any ransom demand.

More than 170,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war, which pits overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim rebels against President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Shiite-derived Alawite minority, backed by Shiite militias from Iraq and Lebanon.

The conflict in Syria started when Assad cracked down on a pro-democracy uprising, which then armed itself.

Until this summer, Assad’s forces held off from targeting Islamic State, an al-Qaeda offshoot formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

This has allowed the group to thrive and also weaken less hardline opposition groups that are backed by the West.

Assad has long painted the uprising in Syria as a foreign-backed Islamist conspiracy and his enemies say he has allowed the Islamic State to grow to promote that idea.

But this month, Islamic State fighters have gained momentum in Syria, boosted by equipment seized in a rapid offensive in neighbouring Iraq, and the Syrian army has become more confrontational, using air strikes to kill fighters.

Additional reporting by Kyodo

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