One of the two U.S. sailors arrested in connection to the rape of a woman in Okinawa has confessed to the alleged crime, according to police on Japan's southernmost island.
Seaman Christopher Browning and Petty Officer 3rd Class Skyler Dozierwalker were arrested early Tuesday by Okinawan authorities shortly after a local woman, 27, said she had been sexually assaulted and robbed in front of her apartment building.
The reported victim did not know the men, and initially ignored their advances outside a bar where the sailors had been drinking, Japanese media reports said. The men followed her into an empty street, where they allegedly attacked her, and slashed her neck.
Police spokesman Yoshitaka Maeshiro, would not elaborate on the extent of her injuries, said Dozierwalker had confessed to the crime while Browning has denied the allegations.
The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo acted swiftly in response to the allegations, putting out a statement overnight from Ambassador John Roos, expressing "concern" and vowing to cooperate "fully with the Japanese authorities in their investigation."
He apologized to Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, a staunch critic of U.S. military presence on the island, who joined the Foreign Ministry in lodging a formal protest against the incident.
Addressing reporters, Roos assured the Japanese public he "understood their anger."
"The entire United States government, including our military, will continue to work our hearts out to earn the trust of the Okinawan people and the people of Japan," he said.
Washington's response speaks to the sensitivity of the alleged crime, on an island that's home to more than half of the 50,000 troops based in Japan. The heavy presence has long been a point of contention between residents and the military community. The anger reached a boiling in 1995 when three marines were arrested in connection with the rape of a 12-year-old girl. U.S. military authorities took the men into custody then, sparking mass anti-U.S. demonstrations from Okinawans outraged they weren't prosecuting the case.
A few weeks ago, residents demonstrated against the deployment of tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft. Local government officials said the aircraft posed a safety risk after two recent Osprey crashes that recalled the aircraft's shaky safety record early in its development.
In a meeting with the minister of defense, Nakaima called the alleged incident "senseless" and demanded the U.S. do more to "discipline its servicemen."
Under the Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Japan, Japanese authorities are holding the sailors and have primary jurisdiction because it involved a Japanese national. The Navy's Criminal Investigative Service is also conducting its own investigation and providing support to Okinawan authorities.
A Navy official said the sailors are based at Fort Worth Naval Air Base in Texas and were temporarily deployed to Japan as part of the crew of a Navy cargo plane.
The plane's crew had flown a mission from Atsugi in Japan to Okinawa, but was required to stay the night on the island because of crew rest requirements.
The alleged incident is said to have occurred during their stay.