A Bangladeshi, suspected of being part of an Al-Qaeda-linked network, ran a cellphone shop directly outside a huge United States naval base at Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, and may have used the perch to track US military movements.
Islam Mohamed Himu, 33, was also found to have some 1 billion yen (S$15.3 million) in his company’s bank accounts and may have operated an underground bank.
Himu, one of five foreigners arrested by Japanese police on Wednesday in raids on some 10 locations, was reportedly in contact with Lionel Dumont, a French Algerian with links to Al-Qaeda who lived in Japan for over a year posing as a used-car salesman.
Dumont’s cellphone record showed him to have regularly called 13 Muslim foreigners living in Japan, including Himu.
Three Pakistanis said to have been helping Dumont to set up a network here reportedly left Japan soon after his arrest in Germany last December.
Dumont was said to have entered Japan in July 2002 from Singapore, using a forged passport bearing the name Tinet Gerald Gamille Armand.
After he left Japan last September, he reportedly spoke to Himu several times on the phone.
Himu’s company was located in a six-storey building which offered a good view of the Yokosuka base, the largest American naval facility outside the US.
Japanese security authorities were said to have marked Himu ever since he set up shop there. There were also reports that he frequently surveyed the base from his fourth-floor office using binoculars. He has also been into the base several times.
On Wednesday, he was arrested on charges of naming as director, when registering his company, a Filipino woman who was no longer in Japan.
Investigators are also trying to establish the source of 1 billion yen in funds that flowed into Himu’s bank accounts over a three-year period.
Reports suggested that Dumont could have been using Japan as a base to finance terrorist cells in the region and could have laundered money through men like Himu.
Dumont had operated a postal savings account while in Japan and had used it to deposit and withdraw large sums of money on some 45 occasions.
He also reportedly sent money from a bank in Niigata prefecture to Malaysia and Ireland.
He apparently made many of his Muslim contacts at a mosque in Isesaki city, in Gunma prefecture north of Tokyo, where he once lived and which has a large Muslim community.
Himu, who has emerged as one of Dumont’s closest contacts in Japan, lives in neighbouring Saitama prefecture.
Police sources said Himu, who arrived in Japan in November 1995 and became a permanent resident when he married a Japanese, made several trips to the Philippines, Bangladesh and Malaysia every year.
Dumont too had visited Malaysia, where he had possibly contacted the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah.
News of the arrests of Muslim foreigners with suspected terrorist links touched off a raw nerve here.
A woman who runs a shop in the Akihabara electronics district, where Himu’s company has a branch, told Yomiuri Shimbun: ‘He spoke Japanese fluently and was a pleasant man. It’s unbelievable that he may be connected to terrorist organisations. It’s frightening.’
Groups claiming to be related to Al-Qaeda have repeatedly vowed to stage attacks in Japan.
A senior Al-Qaeda member arrested in Pakistan in March last year reportedly admitted to police that the group failed to mount an attack in Japan during the 2002 World Cup soccer tournament due to the lack of a support network, a situation which Dumont might have been trying to correct.