Probe of JASDF airman's death finds second apartment filled with weapons
September 6, 2003
NAHA, Okinawa — Okinawa police and U.S. and Japanese military explosive experts found a second cache of military hardware Thursday in a Naha duplex.
The apartment was rented by a Japan Air Self-Defense Force sergeant who was killed by an explosion Sunday while cleaning surplus ammunition for resale at an Okinawa flea market.
Okinawa police said the apartment, in a densely populated residential neighborhood, was used to store military surplus items that Senior Master Sgt. Takio Tamura collected and sold at an illegal flea market in Okinawa City.
Frequented by Okinawans and Americans on the weekends, the flea market stretched a kilometer along a public access road through Kadena Air Base property. Officials ordered it closed earlier this week.
Thursday’s search in the Oroku district turned up two rooms packed with bags and boxes of items Tamura was collecting, police said.
Among the items were an M-16 assault rifle with an attached grenade launcher, 50 cartridge belts, 50 rounds of ammunition and gun parts.
Earlier in the week police and military explosives experts searched Tamura’s four-room apartment in the Gushi district and found two rocket-propelled grenades, an M-16 rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition and other military paraphernalia.
The grenades did not have warheads, but had fuses and enough explosive potential to present a serious hazard, police said.
A further search of Tamura’s apartment Thursday turned up four rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 20 grams of loose gunpowder in bags, police said.
Tamura’s wife and two children were evacuated from the apartment and the items were covered with sandbags. Explosive ordnance disposal experts from the U.S. Air Force are scheduled to defuse the grenades Saturday morning.
The neighborhood will be evacuated at 9 a.m., police said. A total of 200 families, or 500 people, will be removed from the area.
On Thursday, police reported Tamura had been seen as late as Aug. 30 at a waste disposal site in Katsuren, in central Okinawa, sifting through discarded trash collected on U.S. bases.
Police were told Tamura frequented the site weekly looking for military hardware to sell to collectors at the flea market.
However, some of the items found in the two apartments may have come from other sources and Okinawa police, with the assistance of the Japanese and American military, are attempting to track them down.