Japanese journalist kidnapped in Syria said to be brought to Turkey's Hatay

18 2015 Japanese freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda speaks during an interview in Tokyo. Japan's government says a man believed to be a Japanese freelance journalist who went missing three years ago while in Syria has been

"We're very glad he's safe".

Yasuda was apparently taken hostage by a group linked to al-Qaida after entering Syria to cover the civil war.

It was not the first time Yasuda had been detained in the Middle East.

In 2004, Yasuda was held by an armed group in Iraq while covering a conflict in the country but was released unhurt along with another Japanese man three days later.

Suga said the government was making checks to confirm that the man was in fact Yasuda.

He said officials with the Japanese Embassy met with Yasuda at an immigration centre in southern Turkey near the border with Syria, where he has been protected since he was freed Tuesday.

Yasuda's release came as al-Qaida branches have become so weak that they are almost unable to operate, giving them less reason to hold hostages to raise ransom for acquiring weapons, Hiroyuki Aoyama, a Tokyo University of Foreign Studies professor and expert on Syria, told NHK.

"We are grateful from the bottom of our hearts and deeply touched by this delight", the parents of the 44-year-old freelance journalist said in a statement responding to the news.

Ata said Yasuda will be handed over to Japanese officials as soon as necessary procedures on the Turkish side are completed.

"I want to see him in good shape".

"We hope to bring him back home in the fastest way possible after checking his health condition", Kono said at the Foreign Ministry.

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"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.

Yasuda was kidnapped by a branch of al-Qaida in Syria, known at the time as the Nusra Front, after contact with him was lost in June that year.

Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate was known as Al-Nusra Front before it cut ties with the transnational jihadist network in 2016 and changed its name.

Two years ago, a photo was released showing the journalist dressed in an orange shirt and holding up a sign in Japanese that read: "Please help me".

In a short message released by his wife Myu, Yasuda said he was grateful that he could return home safely and promised to explain his experiences at a later date.

Abe said he thanked Qatar and Turkish leaders for their help in gaining Yasuda's release.

Several journalists are still missing in Syria and their fate is unknown.

The Gulf state denies paying ransoms, but have been accused of paying millions of dollars to free 26 Qataris who were abducted by a pro-Iranian militia in Iraq.

The Japanese government has refused to pay ransoms for hostages.

"That kind of thing never happened", Yoshihide Suga told reporters. Goto was taken hostage by the Islamic State group that year, and when negotiations collapsed, they beheaded him.

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