Jumpei Yasuda also explains why he said he was a South Korean man named Umaru in a video filmed by is captors.

On October 24, Japan let out a collective sigh of relief as Jumpei Yasuda was safely released following more than three years as a hostage of a Syrian terrorist organization.

Yasuda, a freelance journalist, went missing in June of 2015 while covering the Syrian civil war. Before his disappearance, he had spoken of his intention to cross the southern Turkish border and enter Syria, but it wasn’t until March of 2016 that his captors released a video of the Saitama Prefecture native in which he pleaded for help, followed by another video in May of that year where he said “This is my last chance.”

Many no doubt feared the worst, but in July of this year a new video of Yasuda was released, although he strangely gave his name as Umaru and claimed to be South Korean, despite speaking Japanese in his statement.

▼ Yasuda, in a still taken from the July 2018 video

Finally, on October 24, Yasuda was released, appearing once again in Turkey, where he made a video statement from an immigration center in the town of Antakya saying, in English, “I have been held in Syria for 40 months, now in Turkey. Now I’m in safe condition. Thank you very much.” He was then taken to the Japanese embassy where his identity was confirmed before boarding a plane to take him back to Japan.

No details have been released regarding what led to Yasuda’s release by his captors (thought to be the al-Qaeda-affiliated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), although the Japanese government denies paying any ransom money in exchange for its citizen’s freedom.

While the overall mood in Japan is one of immense relief, with Yasuda now out of danger, many are once again curious as to why he said he was a South Korean citizen named Umaru. In speaking to reporters, Yasuda tried to explain the circumstances that led to the unusual statements.

“Due to circumstances during my captivity, I had to convert to Islam, and at the time I chose the name Umaru. I made my statement in the video in accordance with the rules my captors had set.”

“If I said that I was Japanese, or gave my real name, the other prisoners would have heard, and if they were released, they would be able to tell people the place where I was being held, They could have told the Japanese authorities, for instance, and then they’d know where my captors were keeping me. So my captors prohibited me from using my real name or saying that I was Japanese.”

The attempted subterfuge doesn’t really make much sense. Again, in the video where Yasuda claimed to be a Umaru the South Korean, he’s speaking Japanese. Even if his captors’ reasoning was that the other prisoners wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the Japanese and Korean languages, the people who could actually understand Yasuda’s words (i.e. people in Japan) would immediately recognize him as kidnapped high-profile Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda.

Yasuda is now on his way home, though, and once again free to call himself whatever he likes.

Sources: NHK News Web (1, 2, 3) BBC
Featured image: Twitter/@nhk_news
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