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Iraqi Authorities Release Detained Japanese Journalist

  • Associated Press

FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2015 file photo, Japanese freelance journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka speaks at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo.

FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2015 file photo, Japanese freelance journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka speaks at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo.

A Japanese freelance journalist detained by local authorities in Iraq was released Monday after being suspected of being a member of the Islamic State group.

Kosuke Tsuneoka was handed over by the authorities in the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq to the Japanese Embassy, Japan's Foreign Ministry said.

The 47-year-old journalist, who specializes in the Middle East, was captured last month while reporting on the battle to retake Mosul from IS. He was taken into custody by Kurdish-led, U.S.-backed forces.

Japan had been negotiating with the Iraqi side to allow local Japanese diplomats to meet Tsuneoka for an eventual release.

Tsuneoka tweeted: "Freed now. Will return home tomorrow evening ... Thanks everyone.''

He said he had been investigated after being arrested as he was carrying a key chain with an IS logo that he obtained on an earlier reporting trip. He said he was carrying the key chain as reporting "material.''

"But this became a problem at a security check for a presidential press conference. I was suspected as an IS member and arrested and interrogated. I had explained this to the authorities, and I do hope they believe my innocence,'' Tsuneoka said on Twitter.

He denied a media report that said he served as a translator for IS militants and received a medal.

"That's terrible. I don't understand Arabic at all,'' he tweeted.

The ministry said that Tsuneoka was in good health and that he was expected to return to Japan on Tuesday.

Tsuneoka had been taken into custody several times in the past, and was kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2010.

His arrest was a reminder in Japan of the abduction and beheading of two Japanese nationals last year by IS extremists in Syria. Another Japanese freelance journalist, Jumpei Yasuda, has been missing for nearly a year and is believed to have been in captivity in Syria.

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