TOKYO (AFP) — The US military Saturday took into custody a deserter in Japan wanted for questioning over the killing of a taxi driver but said he was not a suspect in the crime.
It said in a statement that it had taken "a sailor into custody without incident... on the charge of desertion" early Saturday in Tokyo.
Officials had been looking for the 22-year-old since the beginning of this month.
Reports said the sailor's credit card was found Wednesday in a taxi in which the 61-year-old driver was stabbed to death with a kitchen knife. The blade had penetrated his neck so deeply that it reached his lung.
A local police official declined to comment, directing queries to the US military, where a spokesman could not immediately be reached.
The US Navy said in the statement that "the sailor has not been named as a suspect in the recent tragic murder of the taxi driver... but may have information regarding the murder."
The Navy "continues to cooperate fully with and support Japanese law enforcement officials in this case," it added.
Media specified that the sailor was of Nigerian descent and that police were investigating a meeting he had with a group of Nigerians but did not give further details.
They said Japanese police were expected to request the US military permission to question the sailor on a voluntary basis and seek his handover under the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement.
Relations between the US military and Japan have been tense recently after a series of alleged crimes linked to troops.
More than 40,000 American troops are stationed in the country under a security alliance with the close US ally, which has been pacifist since after World War II.
Japanese media said the sailor had been missing since the beginning of the month. He was serving on the US Navy's 7th Fleet USS Cowpens in Yokosuka.
The city, 65 kilometres (40 miles) south of the Japanese capital on the mouth of Tokyo Bay, is the biggest US naval hub in the Pacific.
Reports have said that the slain taxi driver was suspected of arguing with a customer over a fare, which police said was about 17,000 yen (170 dollars).
Police found about 62,000 yen in cash in a bag in the car.
The incident comes a month after a furore on the southern island of Okinawa after a US Marine was arrested for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl.
Japanese prosecutors decided not to press charges as the girl did not want to pursue the high-profile case. The US military, however, is still considering action against the Marine.
Residents of Okinawa have called a rally at which they hope to draw more than 10,000 people on Sunday to protest crimes and accidents by US soldiers and military personnel.
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