Japanese journalist detained in Iraq released

TOKYO (AP) — 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 because he was carrying a key chain with an IS logo 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.

Kurdish officials said an investigation showed that Tsuneoka, who also goes by his Muslim name Shamil Tsuneoka, had contacted IS members through his smartphone.

The Kurdistan Region Security Council said in a statement that he was detained near Mount Zerdk, east of Mosul, on Oct. 27 and left on a flight out of Irbil on Monday.

Tsuneoka 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.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry said Tsuneoka was in good health and was expected to return to Japan on Tuesday.

Tsuneoka has 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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