SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — A 20-year-old sailor was taken into custody Friday as a suspect in the rape of another sailor’s wife early that morning on a downtown Sasebo city sidewalk, the U.S. Navy said.

The unidentified sailor — assigned to the USS Harpers Ferry, which returned here earlier in the week — was being questioned by naval investigators on base Saturday, the base public affairs office said in a news release.

The suspect was apprehended after a daylong manhunt by Japanese police and base security personnel that included police checkpoints throughout the city and a recall of all sailors on base.

According to the news release, it was still undetermined Saturday whether the Navy or Japanese authorities would handle the case.

However, Japanese police said Saturday they will turn the case over to U.S. authorities, because neither the victim nor the suspect are Japanese nationals.

Both reside in the country under conditions of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.

"Sexual assault is counter to all principles of good behavior and the legal code that our sailors learn from their earliest days on active duty. There is absolutely zero tolerance for this behavior," base officials said in a prepared statement Saturday.

Sasebo Mayor Norio Tomonaga said the incident has made city residents uneasy and that he will request the base take measures to increase discipline among base personnel.

"The occurrence of this case involving a suspect from Sasebo Naval Base causes the loss of a relationship of mutual trust," Tomonaga said in a prepared statement Saturday.

The mayor said he met with base commander Capt. Francis X. Martin on Friday to discuss the case and city concerns.

A passerby found the victim lying on a sidewalk near Sasebo General Hospital at 3:39 a.m. Friday, according to Sasebo police.

The woman, 43, said a stocky man in his 20s grabbed her from behind about 3:23 a.m. and punched her in the face, a police spokesman said Saturday.

The man then pushed her to the ground and raped her, injuring her leg in the attack, police said.

Base security and Japanese police searched for the suspect based on the description from the woman and detained him within 24 hours of the incident, the Navy release said.

The suspect remains in custody on the base.

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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