The Japanese journalist who offered to fly to Syria to save two of his compatriots from Islamic State (Isis) has fled Japan to avoid police surveillance and has renewed contact with his "friends" at IS, IBTimes UK can reveal.
Kosuke Tsuneoka - who is accused of plotting to wage war privately alongside IS commanders -has been travelling to Muslim countries since the 1990s with the intention of building contacts with Islamist groups.
During his travels, he has met groups affiliated with al-Qaeda - including the Taliban - and Chechen separatists. He is one of the only journalists to have been allowed to report from inside the caliphate, where he counts some of commanders of the terror group as personal friends, including IS commander Omar Ghrabah - who he contacted via email, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
However, after the Japanese police searched his home in October 2014, the journalist says he broke all contact with his IS friends after the authorities started monitoring his phones and email accounts.
Speaking from Vietnam, which he entered on 2 March, the journalist told IBTimes UK how he got back in touch with his "old friends at Isis at the beginning of this week", including with Ghrabah, known as "Sheikh Omar the Syrian".
"I have now escaped to Vietnam to get in contact with the Sheikh. He greeted me and asked how I was doing. He told me: 'We are OK,'" Tsuneoka explained.
"I explained [to Ghrabah] my situation, that the Japanese police questioned me and that I am now always watched and that I cannot do anything in my country. [I also told him] that I had to escape from Japan to contact him. He told me to keep in touch with him."
Forbidden from travelling to Syria
The war-zone veteran, who took the Muslim first name Shamil when he converted to Islam in February 2000, is suspected of violating the rarely enforced Article 93 of Japan's criminal code, which prohibits "preparing or plotting to wage war privately upon a foreign state", after allegedly helping a student who may have been attempting to join IS.
His close links to the jihadi militants became clear in September 2014 when IS invited him to be "witness and interpreter" at the trial of Japanese hostages Haruna Yukawa, who was subsequently killed alongside fellow hostage Kenji Goto.
Tsuneoka had initially said he would do "everything" in his power to negotiate the two men. But he was forbidden from travelling to Syria alongside Ko Nakata, an Islamic law scholar and visiting professor of Japan's Doshisha University, after the police raided their respective homes on 6 October 2014, a day before their planned departure.
The journalist was detained for questioning for 24 hours but was not arrested. During the search, officers confiscated 61 personal items including his passport, aeroplane tickets, three computers, seven mobile phones and a number of SIM cards.
Police sources declared the raid stemmed from the ongoing police investigation into Tsuneoka's involvement with the student. While Tsuneoka has managed to leave the country, he claims he had no immediate plans to visit Syria. "When I arrived at the airport I was afraid the police would follow me and catch me, but nobody came after me," he said. "But I won't fly to Syria now."