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.
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.
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 Shi'ite-derived Alawite minority, backed by Shi'ite 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.