Police in Okinawa, Japan obtained an arrest warrant Monday for the U.S. soldier suspected of raping a woman in a parking lot.
Chief investigator Isamu Inamine identified the suspect as Timothy B. Woodland, 24, who U.S. authorities had said was a technical sergeant with the U.S. Air Force.
Woodland, who has denied the charges, was returned to Kadena Air Base pending the completion of formal procedures with U.S. military authorities.
"We intend to arrest him as soon as we have approval to do so," Inamine said. It was unclear how long that would take.
According to local police, an Okinawan woman in her 20s claims she was accosted and raped by Woodland at about 2 a.m., after drinking with friends at a nightclub.
The alleged rape has been front-page news on Okinawa, where crimes over the years by American servicemen — including the rape of a schoolgirl in 1995 — have fanned opposition to the large U.S. military presence.
Other Americans were reportedly at the scene, and may have tried to stop the crime, though there were conflicting accounts regarding that point.
If the case goes to trial, Woodland would face an uphill battle in Japanese courts. Japan has a conviction rate of more than 90 percent.
Okinawan police met with U.S. military investigators Monday afternoon to discuss the case. "We agreed to try to conclude the investigation quickly," said Koshin Iraha, head of the police precinct where the suspect has been questioned.
James Onusko, commander of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations at Kadena Air Base, also declined to comment because the investigation was still under way.
On Monday, the prefectural assembly was reportedly planning to issue a statement condemning the alleged rape. Kyodo reported the local mayor plans to demand a curfew on U.S. servicemen.
But the reaction of the public on this semitropical island, the largest of a chain located between Taiwan and Japan's main islands, has been relatively subdued.
"I have very mixed feelings about this whole thing," said Shuichi Ikei, who works at American Depot, one of the many boutiques in American Village.
"We have a lot of American customers, and most of them are friendly, and cause no trouble," he said. "But it's happened again."
Just six years ago, tens of thousands of Okinawans turned out in the streets to protest the military presence here after three servicemen were arrested for raping a 12-year-old schoolgirl and abandoning her on a lonely rural road.
The three were later convicted, and the protests fueled demands for the United States to streamline its presence in Okinawa and relocate a major Marine helicopter facility from a crowded urban area to a remote area to the north.
Last year, an American soldier was arrested after entering the home of a Japanese family and getting into bed with a young girl and molesting her. He was later convicted. Other crimes and embarrassing remarks by U.S. troops and officers have also angered residents.
No demonstrations have followed the latest allegation, and an annual goodwill festival held at Kadena Air Base over the weekend attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. No incidents were reported, and security at the festival was light.
Nevertheless, it comes at a sensitive time — Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi held talks with President Bush at Camp David, Md., on Saturday in his first visit to the United States as premier.
Crimes committed by military personnel receive very close scrutiny. Troops are required to go through special training to help them understand local concerns, and have been forced to observe periodic curfews and drinking restrictions.
But many believe the military can only do so much.
"We can't screen everyone to tell if they are going to do something like this down the road," said Marine Sgt. Marvin Narciso, who was in American Village, working on his car Monday.
"You can only educate a person so much," he said, adding that most of the troops don't misbehave. "This whole thing really makes me angry — things were getting better, now this."
Washington and Tokyo agree that the 26,000 troops on Okinawa are a key factor in assuring the stability of the region. The troops — including the largest contingent of Marines outside the United States — are within close range of China, Taiwan, North Korea, Russia and Southeast Asia.
To Okinawans, the presence is a crucial source of income, pumping billions of dollars into an otherwise stagnant economy that relies heavily on tourism. But it remains a sensitive issue.
Okinawa was used as a last-ditch line of Japan's defense against the Allies; the island was one of the bloodiest battlegrounds of World War II. About a third of its civilian population died.
It was governed by the United States from 1945 to 1972, although the occupation of Japan's main islands ended in 1952. Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. troops in Japan are in Okinawa, which makes up less than 1 percent of Japan's total area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.