U.S. Sailor Linked to Japanese Taxi Driver's Death Near Base Taken Into Custody

A U.S. sailor sought in the killing of a Japanese taxi driver near an American navy base was taken into custody for questioning early Saturday, U.S. navy officials said.

The 61-year-old victim, Masaaki Takahashi, was found fatally stabbed in his cab Wednesday night in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, about a kilometer (half-mile) from the U.S. naval base.

The case comes as public anger over the U.S. military presence in Japan is mounting, with troops facing a series of criminal allegations, from rapes to alcohol-related incidents. The outrage has prompted the military to impose restrictions on America's 50,000 servicemen.

Local media reports have said credit cards belonging to the detained sailor were found in the taxi driver's vehicle. Authorities have been looking for the sailor, said to be seaman in his early 20s, since he was reported missing from his base on March 10.

U.S. Navy investigative officers took the sailor into custody in downtown Tokyo early Saturday, because he "may have information regarding the murder," said a statement released by the Commander U.S. Naval Forces Japan.

He was being held on base to answer charges of desertion, not as a suspect in the killing, said spokesman Cmdr. David Waterman. No requests have been made to hand the man over to Japanese police under the accordance of a bilateral security agreement.

The name, age, nationality and other details about the sailor -- a crewmember of the USS Cowpens based at Yokosuka -- were not released for privacy reasons, Waterman said.

Kanagawa prefectural police, where Yokosuka is located, also would not comment on whether they had identified a suspect.

The U.S. navy promised to "cooperate fully" with Japanese authorities in the case.

Japanese anger over the U.S. military presence has grown in recent months following an alleged rape in February of a 14-year-old girl by an American serviceman on the southern island of Okinawa, as well as an alleged gang rape of a Japanese woman by U.S. Marine Corps officers in Iwakuni, southern Japan last year. Other alcohol-related incidents have inflamed sentiment.

Both cases were dropped by the Japanese authorities, but the U.S. military is continuing its own investigations of the cases.

Inside Takahashi's cab, investigators discovered about US$600 in cash in a bag and tens of thousands of yen in his pockets, according to local media, which also suspected a payment dispute between the driver and his last passenger may have led to the killing.