— -- September 7, 2001 -- The U.S. embassy in Tokyo today warned Americans living in Japan to be on a heightened state of alert for possible terrorist attacks.
In a one-sentence statement released today, the embassy said it had received unconfirmed information of "terrorist actions" against U.S. military facilities or against establishments frequented by U.S. military personnel.
There are about 48,000 American military personnel in Japan, nearly half of whom are stationed in Okinawa, a subtropical island 1,000 miles south of Tokyo.
According to the Japanese Justice Ministry, there are about 40,000 U.S. civilians registered as residents in Japan.
The warning was not part of any global alert, a U.S. embassy spokesman told Reuters today.
The Warden System message was delivered as part of a policy that was established after the 1988 bombing of a Pan American Airways 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, said embassy spokesman Patrick Linehan.
Although embassy sources refused to divulge any details about when the warnings were expected to be lifted, an embassy source told the Associated Press the threat was "credible."
Reports: Bin Laden Network Looking at Asia
In recent days, there have been reports that Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden's group Al-Qaeda was targeting U.S. and Israeli military facilities in Asia, where security was more relaxed than in other parts of the world.
According to Frontline, a Japanese news magazine, security sources in Paris told the magazine that U.S. embassies in Tokyo or the Philippine capital, Manila, could be targets.
In June, U.S. authorities issued worldwide cautions that U.S. citizens abroad might be targeted by extremist groups with links to Al-Qaeda. The cautions followed the federal indictment in New York of 14 people suspected of involvement in a 1996 bombing that killed 19 U.S. servicemen at the Khobar Towers military housing complex in Saudi Arabia.
Outrage on Island
The U.S. military presence in Japan has, in the past, been a contentious issue with Japanese citizens. Residents of Okinawa have periodically complained of abuse, harassment and other problems at the hands of U.S. military personnel.
In July, a U.S. Air Force senior staff sergeant was indicted by Japanese prosecutors on charges he raped a woman in Okinawa.
Sgt. Timothy Woodland, 24, who was stationed at the Kadena Air Base at the time of the alleged attack, is accused of raping the 20-year-old local woman in a parking lot at a shopping and entertainment complex known as the American Village early in the morning on June 29th.
He has denied the charge, claiming he had consensual sex with the woman.
The incident came nearly six years after the island flew into outrage when three U.S. servicemen stationed in Okinawa were accused of abducting and raping a 12-year-old schoolgirl.