Reports place al-Qaida suspect on Yokosuka Naval Base
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — U.S. Navy officials were saying little Thursday about the arrest of a Bangladeshi man suspected of having ties to a reputed al-Qaida operative — and an office right across the street from Yokosuka Naval Base.
Islam Mohamed Himu, 33, was one of five people arrested by Japanese police Wednesday in raids at 16 locations across the country. Among them was an office and apartment in a six-story building across the street from the base. Japanese police said Himu, the head of a cell-phone company, had offices and living quarters there, according to news reports.
Himu was being investigated for possible links to Lionel Dumont, a Frenchman now in custody who is believed to be connected to the al-Qaida terrorist network. Dumont left Japan last fall and was arrested in Germany in December. In the interim, Dumont was in frequent contact by cell phone with Himu and the others arrested Wednesday, according to Japanese news reports.
The location of Himu’s Yokosuka space, set up last year, according to press reports, could be a concern because U.S. military bases have been targeted by Islamic extremists.
Cmdr. John Wallach, a spokesman for Commander, Naval Forces Japan, said that he assumed, “with a pretty fair degree of certainty,” that Japanese police had informed base security officials before the raid because of the close ties they share.
Wallach said, however, that U.S. personnel did not participate in the raids. “That was a matter for the Japanese exclusively, since it’s in their jurisdiction,” he added.
According to Japanese news reports paraphrasing unnamed police sources, Himu had been under surveillance since last summer.
Himu had entered the naval base on numerous occasions, escorted by people connected with the base, possibly in an attempt to befriend sailors and gather intelligence, according to the reports.
Mike Chase, base spokesman, said base officials “continue to evaluate force protection measures.”
“We’re taking the steps necessary to protect our people,” Chase said.
One base official who declined to be named said that even if people with possible ties to Islamic militants were scoping out the base, it wasn’t necessarily too worrisome.
“We think what we’re doing is sufficient to present a hard target to the bad guys,” the official said.
Himu was arrested on charges of falsifying corporate registration documents, according to The Japan Times. Himu had come to Japan in the mid-1990s, the newspaper reported, and had become a permanent resident after marrying a Japanese woman.
Himu was rarely in the Yokosuka building, according to the building’s owner, who was quoted in The Daily Yomiuri. His business, selling prepaid cell phones, also had an office in the Akihabara district in Tokyo.
Among the other men arrested Wednesday was an employee of the business, also from Bangladesh.
Dumont is charged in connection with the 1997 murder of a policeman in Bosnia, according to the Mainichi Daily News.
The Mainichi Daily News also reported that Dumont’s brother-in-law denied Dumont was an al-Qaida member.
“He’s just an ‘angry Muslim’ who has witnessed the situation of Bosnia,” the brother-in-law was quoted as saying. He also said Dumont had come to Japan for “tranquility,” not to engage in terrorism.