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FILE PHOTO: Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda, who is seen in this photo sent by e-mail to a Kyodo News photographer on June 23, 2015 before Yasuda's departure to Syria, with the message reading, "I will smuggle myself into Syria from now", is seen in this undated photo released by Kyodo on December 24, 2015. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS/File Photo

(reuters_tickers)

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese freelance journalist being held by militants in Syria appeared to surface on video published by Japanese media on Wednesday, pleading for help after three years in captivity, the government said.

Japan's top government spokesman said he believed the man is Jumpei Yasuda.

The bearded man, in an orange jumpsuit, is kneeling, surrounded by two hooded gunmen in black. In the video shown on various media websites, he says in Japanese in a strained voice, “My name is Umar. I am South Korean. Today’s date is July 25, 2018. I am in a terrible situation. Please help me immediately.”

It was not clear why he identified himself as Korean or used that name.

"It is the government's prime responsibility to protect Japanese, and we are making the utmost efforts, using various information networks," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference. He declined to comment further.

A Foreign Ministry official said the government believes Yasuda holds Japanese nationality.

Yasuda was reported by Japanese media as being captured by an al Qaeda affiliate after entering Syria from Turkey in 2015. Since then, he has appeared occasionally in online videos, his hair greying, lengthening and becoming more unkempt.

Japanese would-be soldier of fortune Haruna Yukawa was captured by the self-styled Islamic State after slipping into Aleppo in August 2014. His friend, journalist Kenji Goto, sought to help Yukawa and was also captured. Both were beheaded in early 2015.

(The story was refiled to clarify the name of the Japanese journalist in the second paragraph)

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by William Mallard and Nick Macfie)

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Reuters