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NAHA, Okinawa — Okinawa police and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force personnel Tuesday night discovered two anti-tank rocket propelled grenades, six flare guns, a U.S. military-issued M-16 rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition in the apartment of a Japanese airman killed in an explosion Sunday at an Okinawa City junkyard.

An autopsy completed Monday showed Senior Master Sgt. Takio Tamura, 53, of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, died of massive blood loss from shrapnel wounds.

Police said shell fragments found near the blast were similar to 28 practice hand grenades found in Tamura’s van, leading investigators to suspect the explosion occurred while he was cleaning the devices for resale at a local flea market.

Okinawa police, with the assistance of the U.S. and Japanese military, are investigating the source of the scrap military ammunition.

Tamura’s wife and two children were evacuated from the four-room apartment in the Gushi district of Naha on Tuesday night and explosive ordnance experts from the U.S. Air Force were called in to assess the potential danger, police said. The ordnance team determined the warheads on the rocket-propelled grenades were missing, but the devices still had fuses and enough explosive potential to present a serious danger to the neighborhood.

Police said Air Force experts recommended the weapons not be moved and that they be disposed of on-site.

Sandbags were placed around the rockets and at press time officials were discussing procedures to evacuate the area so the devices can be destroyed.

Shells found in Tamura’s van Sunday were inspected by a Self-Defense Force explosive ordnance team, but no explosive material was found.

Okinawa Prefectural Police set up a special investigative team to look into possible violations of Japan’s Explosives Control Law. The team is to report to the Naha District Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Tamura, an auto mechanic, was assigned to Naha Air Base. But Self-Defense Force officials there said he had no access to the base arsenal.

English writing on practice grenade shells found in Tamura’s van and on ammunition subsequently found in searches of his home and office indicated he may have bought the shells from a surplus store or flea market.

The items found Tuesday were in a bag in a room in the apartment used for storage, police said.

A search of Tamura’s home Monday turned up several other military-related items including cartridge belts, fuses, stabilizing fins for rockets and live cartridges, police said.

Police have not ruled out the possibility Tamura bought the items from U.S. military personnel. The items found in his van and apartment are not weapons used by the Self-Defense Force, police said.

Police believe Tamura was killed when a shell that may have had residual explosive material somehow ignited. A spokesman said the explosion appeared to have the destructive power of a hand grenade.

Preliminary autopsy test results showed Tamura had been handling nitric acid, police said.

The sale of military surplus items is big business on Okinawa, where shops situated near the bases offer them for sale.

According to local news reports, the junkyard where the explosion took place is owned by a man who sells shells, camouflage clothing and other military gear disposed of by U.S. forces. The owner operates a stall in an illegal flea market on weekends along Route 38 in Okinawa City, near Kadena Air Base, according to the news reports.

Police said the owner was working on the second floor of the building when the explosion occurred. He was not injured.

On Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Kiyoshi Yada, commander of Naha Air Base, visited Okinawa City Mayor Masakazu Nakasone and expressed his regrets and apologized for any anxiety caused by the incident.

“I am outraged that such an explosion that occurred in a quiet residential area,” Nakasone told the general.


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