Japan said Thursday it was working with Tehran to free a 23-year-old Japanese university student kidnapped by suspected bandits as he traveled alone in southeastern Iran. Iranian security forces were tracking the armed men, who abducted the student on Monday as he headed to visit the ancient citadel in Bam, a tourist attraction devastated by a 2003 quake.
“It is truly deplorable that this happened. We are making our utmost efforts in our foremost goal, which is to bring him back safely,” Japan’s chief government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura said.
Diplomats at the Japanese embassy in Tehran spoke with the student and confirmed he was safe as of Wednesday, a foreign ministry official said.
Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said he had asked his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki for assistance.
“I asked him for his cooperation in safely rescuing the kidnapped person,” Komura told reporters.
“He said they have identified the whereabouts of the abductee and he told me he will make efforts to resolve the issue,” said Komura, whose ministry set up an emergency task force.
The kidnap victim was identified as Satoshi Nakamura, who was studying sociology at Yokohama National University, an official at the school near Tokyo said.
Reports said Nakamura had initially been part of a volunteer group involved in education and traveled for two months around Asia. He crossed into Iran from Pakistan, public broadcaster NHK said.
Japan has asked Iran to contact the group responsible for the abduction, officials said.
Japanese authorities declined to comment on who was behind the kidnapping, but Komura said that the Iranian authorities “are close to identifying the group responsible.”
NHK quoted an unnamed senior foreign ministry official as saying that bandits were believed to be responsible, and that there was no indication they had any political motive.
Machimura, the chief cabinet secretary, said Japan would likely raise the warning level for travelers heading to southeastern Iran, an area near the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan known for banditry.
In August, bandits seized two Belgians in southeastern Iran. One was freed two days later but the other was held for 34 days. Belgium said it paid no ransom for their release.
Jundullah, a shadowy militant group from Iran’s Sunni minority, has carried out a number of attacks in the area in recent years.
It claimed one in February in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province, in which 11 members of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) were killed and 31 wounded.
Japan has historically had cordial relations with Iran, both before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Japan has taken a lower profile than its Western allies in pressuring Tehran on its nuclear drive.