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Japanese journalist denies allegation he is IS sympathizer

Associated Press Associated Press 10/11/2016 By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press
Kosuke Tsuneoka, a Japanese freelance journalist who was detained by local authorities in Iraq, speaks during a press conference in Tokyo, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. Tsuneoka was released Monday, Nov. 7 after being suspected of being a member of the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko) © The Associated Press Kosuke Tsuneoka, a Japanese freelance journalist who was detained by local authorities in Iraq, speaks during a press conference in Tokyo, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. Tsuneoka was released Monday, Nov. 7 after being suspected of being a member of the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO — A Japanese journalist deported from Iraq denied on Thursday allegations by Kurdish officials that he is a sympathizer of the Islamic State extremist group.

Kosuke Tsuneoka told reporters in Tokyo that he was in Mosul only to report as a journalist on the battle to retake the IS-held city. Iraqi and Kurdish troops are currently fighting to expel the militant group out of Mosul.

"Let me remind you that I'm not an IS member, not even a supporter," said the Muslim convert who also goes by Shamil Tsuneoka. "I'm fundamentally against the belief of the Islamic State group ... That is not the Islam that I believe in."

Tsuneoka, a journalist who has covered militant groups in the Middle East, was arrested Oct. 27 after he was going through a security check and found to be carrying a key chain with an IS logo. He said it was given to him by a bus passenger on an earlier reporting trip. He said he kept it hoping to trace its origin.

He said it was merely his "stupidity" to have kept the key chain in a pocket of his backpack that he handed in for a security check. He was handcuffed at the spot and taken into custody for interrogation by Kurdish intelligence officials, Tsuneoka said. "Obviously I was suspected as an IS member trying to sneak into a news conference," he said.

The Kurdistan Region Security Council accused him of having links to the IS group. They said an investigation showed Tsuneoka had contacted IS members through his smartphone and has posted photos suggesting his link with the fighters on social media.

Tsuneoka said Kurdish intelligence officials asked him for details about how they communicated. The Kurdistan authority handed him over to Japan's Foreign Ministry on Monday for deportation out of the country, with his case still pending.

Tsuneoka said he hopes to be cleared soon so he could return to Mosul and resume reporting despite what he had just gone through. He said he was the only Japanese reporter there at the time and felt strongly about the need to inform the Japanese of the situation.

"I hope to go back," Tsuneoka said. "Someone must keep reporting on the situation."

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/mari-yamaguchi

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