(Sankei: February 1, 2016 – p. 3)
Concern about international terrorism is growing in Japan as the “Islamic State” (IS) includes Japan among the targets of its terrorism. Also there is the risk that Japanese nationals may travel to troubled regions. The government needs not only to prevent terrorism but also to identify beforehand individuals who may leave Japan for dangerous regions.
Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) found out Kenji Goto’s plan for travelling to Syria before his departure, it failed to dissuade him from going. In February last year, after learning that a man was planning to go to Syria, MOFA ordered him to return his passport for his own protection. As the Constitution guarantees freedom of movement, MOFA was reluctant to take such a move, but following the murders of two Japanese at the hands of IS, the ministry decided to take the aggressive step.
But, as a public security official notes, “It is impossible to vet every trip.” In fact, Junpei Yasuda, a freelance journalist who had planned to go to Syria from Turkey, went missing after IS killed the two Japanese men. If individuals hide their intention to travel to a risky country, authorities have no effective measures to prevent them from going.
Fighters from around the world flock to Syria and other troubled regions. These fighters could commit acts of terror after returning to their home countries. The ringleader of the simultaneous terrorist attacks in Paris last year travelled from Europe to Syria for training. “In order to nip terrorism in the bud, banning travel is extremely important,” said an official of an investigative authority.
In October 2014, the Public Security Division of Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department searched the residence of a Hokkaido University student over allegations of preparations for a private war and conspiracy. The student was planning to travel to Syria to become a IS fighter. The police seized his passport.
Monitoring communications, an effective measure for gathering information on terrorists, is limited in Japan. There are no laws to detain individuals who want to become fighters or to punish fighters who return to Japan from troubled regions.
In December last year, the government established “the International Terrorism Intelligence-Gathering Unit” with personnel from MOFA, the National Police Agency (NPA), and other relevant ministries and agencies. The unit collects terrorism information by region. The Kantei [the Prime Minister’s Official Residence] analyzes the collected information. The unit also shares information with the NPA’s Terrorism Response Team-Tactical Wing for Overseas (TRT-2). (Abridged)