NAHA, Okinawa — Okinawa police have set up a Special Assault Team that would respond to terrorism on Okinawa.
The first 20 members of the team, which is similar to special weapons and tactics, or SWAT, teams in the United States, graduated recently at a ceremony at the Prefectural Police Academy in Uruma City.
The SAT is the eighth such prefectural team in Japan, following teams set up in Tokyo, Hokkaido, Chiba, Kanagawa, Aichi, Osaka and Fukuoka.
The first teams were set up in April 1996 to respond to major terrorist threats, such as hijacking or siege of important facilities, said Iwao Uruma, Commissioner General of the National Police Agency. He said Okinawa’s geography and the large presence of U.S. military bases are the two most important reasons for establishing a team here.
“Okinawa is located geographically apart from the other prefectures where SATs have been already installed,” Uruma said, according to a spokesman for the Okinawa Prefectural Police.
“Also, a statement claimed to be issued by Osama bin Laden named Japan as one of the target countries of their attacks,” Japan’s top cop added. “Meanwhile, Japan hosts various U.S.-related facilities which have been targets of attack by Islamic extremists. There is a concern of a terrorist attack aimed at these facilities.”
The Okinawa team trained to rescue hostages and crack down on terrorists, a police spokesman said. The team is made up of squads specializing in storming, sniping and backing up the other units and is trained to use special weapons, such as flash bombs, to settle incidents.
“While [the] Japanese government is taking every possible measure to counter terrorism, the presence of the SATs as the fortress of national security is the ultimate stronghold against major terrorist attacks in Japan,” Uruma said.
During threats to U.S. bases, the police spokesman said, the SAT would operate outside the bases, in conjunction with special riot police who are assigned to monitor activity outside the gates and patrol the outside perimeters of the bases during protests.
A Marine Corps spokesman said the Okinawan SAT will not train with military special reaction teams.