Radical group suspected in weapons fire close to US base near Tokyo

Improvised mortars fell near Tokyo hours after arrest of member of radical faction

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 November, 2013, 9:34am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 3:05am

Improvised rocket launchers were fired close to a US air base near Tokyo, police and the American military said yesterday, with suspicions falling on one of Japan's small ultra-leftist groups.

No one was hurt and no damage was done in the incident, which the local media reported came hours after the arrest of a senior member of a radical faction, and followed a pattern seen four years earlier.

"The incident occurred at 11.30pm on Thursday. Flying objects were launched near the US military's Yokota Air Base," a spokesman for Tokyo Metropolitan Police said.

"Several reports were made by neighbours that they had heard explosions at about 11.30pm. Police discovered two steel pipes, two wires, batteries and so forth. No damage has been reported so far and police have not found the projectiles."

Local media reported the pipes were buried in the ground, with their upper ends pointing in the direction of the air base.

A statement from the US military confirmed there had been "an improvised mortar launch outside Yokota".

"There were no injuries and thus far we have found no damage or impact points here on base. We take matters of security at our installation very seriously and we are assisting" police, the statement said.

There have been no claims of responsibility, but police believe it may have been a guerilla attack by extreme leftists, Jiji Press and other media said.

Broadcaster NTV reported police were concentrating their investigations on the Revolutionary Labourers' Association Anti-Majority Faction because the incident came just hours after they arrested a top-ranking member of the group on Thursday.

There was a similar incident four years ago, when police raided hideouts of the same leftists, NTV said.

Japan's politics is generally moderate, although there are vestiges of the radicalism on both left and right that abounded in the 1960s and 1970s.

One of the most infamous groups was the United Red Army which, despite its relatively small size, gained notoriety for its extreme brutality. A linked group, the Japanese Red Army, operated from Lebanon in tandem with Palestinian militias, carrying out terror attacks including a massacre at Israel's Lod airport and hijackings of Japan Airlines planes.

Japan is host to almost 50,000 US service personnel and their families. The two countries have a mutual defence agreement that means Tokyo is sheltered under Washington's security umbrella.

But many people in Okinawa, where the bulk of US troops are based, resent their presence and an increasingly vocal campaign wants them to leave. However, reports of violence to this end are not common.

In an agreement last year, the US said it would pull 9,000 marines out of Okinawa - 4,000 of whom would go to Guam and 5,000 to Hawaii and on rotations to Australia.