Abducted Japanese student may be in Pakistan

TEHRAN (Kyodo), Oct 22: The militant drug smugglers that kidnapped a Japanese student in Iran earlier this month have taken him out of the country and possibly into Pakistan, an Iranian government spokesman said Saturday.

Spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said the hostage, Satoshi Nakamura, 23, is unharmed and in good condition. He also stressed that Japan needs to cooperate with Iran's neighbors to win Nakamura's freedom. Iran also borders Afghanistan.

It is believed the group fled Iran to escape from Iranian police and security authorities.

Iranian authorities said earlier that they were hopeful Nakamura would be released soon, but the latest development could complicate efforts to find Nakamura, who was kidnapped Oct. 7.

On Friday, the Iranian Students News Agency reported that Nakamura had been taken to southern Sistan and Baluchistan Province near the Pakistani border, quoting a provincial security official.

Nakamura is a fourth-year student at Yokohama National University. It is believed that he was abducted by a drug-smuggling group named Shahbakhsh. The group has been demanding that Iran free some of its members from prison in exchange for Nakamura's release.

The Japanese government has been asking Iran for help in winning the student's release. It is believed Iranian officials tried to persuade the group to let him go through a tribal intermediary.

Nakamura was kidnapped near the ancient city of Bam after entering Iran via India and Pakistan, among other places. There was information he was then transported to the mountainous province of Sistan and Baluchistan, near the Pakistani border, and was being held at a hideout.

A Japanese government source said in Tokyo Saturday that the report on Nakamura's captors leaving Iran could be correct.

"We have been told that the perpetrators' group is moving around mountainous regions at the borders. It (the Pakistan report) is within the scope of assumptions," the source said, adding that Tehran has told Tokyo the captors might cross Iran's borders.

"There is no change in our policy of seeking a resolution to the case by relying on the Iranian government," a Foreign Ministry official said.

The government source also suggested that the border crossing may not be a big deal in the long run.

"It is hard to assume the perpetrators' group will move far away from the border region. They could return to Iran," the source said.

The Japanese government told its embassies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which both border Iran, to gather information after Nakamura was abducted. The source said the government is not planning to request cooperation from Pakistan or other parties concerned.

The Japan Times



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