A Japanese college student abducted in Iran’s southeast has been confirmed safe, but it was unknown when he would be released, a Japanese government spokesman said Thursday.Satoshi Nakamura, 23, is believed to have been abducted a week ago by a regional drug-smuggling group who demanded the release of detained members in exchange for Nakamura’s freedom.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Iranian authorities had confirmed Nakamura’s safety, but he had no further details on the student’s condition.
Japan’s Senior Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Itsunori Onodera, went to Tehran on Tuesday to help secure Nakamura’s release.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry has denied that a deal would take place with the kidnappers but has said the government was hopeful Nakamura would be released soon.
Japanese news reports have said Nakamura was on holiday in Iran.
A senior Iranian law enforcement official said on Wednesday that the Japanese student abducted in Iran’s Kerman province several days ago has been taken to the border province of Sistan and Balouchestan.
Speaking to reporters in the provincial capital city of Zahedan, deputy commander of Rasoul Akram Law Enforcement Headquarters in Sistan and Balouchestan, Ali Eshaghi, said since the time of abduction, bandits have frequently changed their hideout.
“According to the security and intelligence operations carried out in this case, the Japanese hostage has been transferred to Sistan and Balouchestan, but we cannot pinpoint their exact location due to security reasons and because they may escape the place,” he added.
Nakamura had been traveling alone in southeastern Iran after teaching Japanese and English in Nepal with a volunteer group.
He was kidnapped on October 8 as he headed from his hotel for the ancient mud-built citadel of Bam, which was one of Iran’s main tourist draws until it was destroyed in a 2003 earthquake that killed 31,000 people.
The official ruled out political drive of the bandits, and said, “There are certain individuals who embark on kidnapping in order to ask for ransom and to blackmail the other side and their action has raised suspicions that the region is insecure while these measures are not politically-driven.”
He said such hostage-taking operations take place merely in pursuit of economic goals.
Earlier reports blamed a bandit named Esmail Shahbakhsh for the kidnapping, saying that he has asked for the release of his arrested son in exchange for Nakamura.
The bandit is said to be the same man whose gang in August abducted two Belgian tourists who were later freed.
But Eshaghi dismissed the reports, saying that according to the latest information, Shahbakhsh has played no direct role in the kidnapping.
Earlier on Wednesday an Iranian official assured of Tehran’s continued efforts to set the Japanese hostage free, but meantime, called on Tokyo to refrain from direct intervention in the case
“Negotiations and efforts continue for his release and we hope that he (the Japanese student) will be released as soon as possible,” Director General of the Interior Ministry’s Public Relations department Majid Malekan told FNA.
“The security and law enforcement officials are striving to release this Japanese citizen unharmed,” he said.
Meantime, the Iranian official stressed that the issue should be resolved by Tehran, and called on Tokyo to refrain from direct involvement in the case.
“In similar cases in Iran and other countries, including the recent case of the Korean citizens who had been taken hostage by the Taliban (in Afghanistan), it has been proved that non-intervention of the country whose citizens have been taken hostage can assist facilitated solution of the case,” Malekan said.
He said any direct involvement of the countries whose nationals have been abducted “might lead to the misuse of the hostage takers”.