Korean retracts shrine confession

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Korean retracts shrine confession

The 27-year-old Korean man suspected of being linked with the Yasukuni Shrine restroom explosion last month reportedly admitted to Tokyo Police he was behind the blast and then retracted his confession, according to Japanese media Thursday.

The man surnamed Jeon, who traveled to Japan last month for three days, was arrested by Tokyo police upon re-entering the country at Haneda Airport on Wednesday morning.

Kyodo News and Sankei Shimbun reported that Jeon, who is in the custody of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, at one point admitted that he entered the shrine and installed explosives on Nov. 23, citing investigative sources. But he took back the confession soon after.

Tokyo authorities suspect Jeon as being behind an explosion at a men’s restroom at the Yasukuni Shrine on Nov. 23 that caused a small fire and damaged the ceiling and walls. There were no casualties. Batteries, a digital timer and pipes containing explosives were found in the restroom of the shrine, considered controversial because it honors among Japan’s war dead, 14 Class-A war criminals, and is considered a symbol of the country’s militarism.

Local police through CCTV footage traced a suspicious man who had lurked by the restroom where the blast occurred to a nearby hotel in Chiyoda Ward, and said he was confirmed as a Korean guest there.

Jeon, who entered Japan on Nov. 21, returned to Korea immediately after the shrine blast. However, he apparently voluntarily returned to Japan on Wednesday morning.

He was arrested upon arrival in Japan for entering the shrine with unlawful purposes on Nov. 22 and Nov. 23, according to Tokyo police officials. Should Jeon be found responsible for the explosion, he would likely face further charges.

Jeon voluntarily complied with Japanese authorities to undergo a first round of questioning at a police station near the shrine. He was later taken to Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department headquarters for questioning.

When asked why he returned to Japan on Wednesday, Jeon said he was questioned by Japanese reporters in Korea about the case after his name was leaked by Japanese authorities. He said he flew to Japan because he “wanted to check the restroom at Yasukuni Shrine,” according to Japanese media reports. He denied he was responsible for the blast. He had a return ticket booked for Seoul for 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Jeon also testified to authorities that his three-day Tokyo trip last month was his first time visiting Japan, according to Sankei Shimbun. He reportedly had not been affiliated with any anti-Japanese organizations, nor did he have a previous criminal record.

Japanese police are reviewing dispatching investigators to Korea to do a background search on Jeon, it reported.

Jeon’s arrest has drawn a lot of media attention in Japan.

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that after Jeon’s arrest, Japanese police reported the fact to the Korean Embassy in Tokyo and that the ministry is offering consular support to Jeon.

“We have not received any further reports from Japanese authorities,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said in a briefing Thursday afternoon. He said that consular support means helping to prevent any unfair legal actions taken in the investigation process and to ensure his due rights. “We plan to continue to provide necessary support,” Cho added.

When asked if Jeon’s case could lead to diplomatic tensions between Seoul and Tokyo, he replied, “It is reasonable to first watch over the investigation situation. I think we cannot predict something like that when the results have not come out yet.”

The spokesman told reporters that the Foreign Ministry also “lodged a formal complaint through diplomatic channels” to the Japanese government on the invasive method of Japanese media’s reporting of Jeon’s case early Thursday morning, exposing too many personal details including his full name and photo of his face.

Previously, the Korean government, in line with a ruing by the Seoul High Court, refused to extradite Liu Qiang, a Chinese man suspected of an arson attack at the Yasukuni Shrine gates in December 2011, which added to diplomatic tensions with Tokyo.

Jeon, whose parents divorced in his childhood, is a native of Namwon, North Jeolla, and grew up in Gunsan. He joined the Air Force at the end of 2009 as a noncommissioned officer, and spent five years there before he was discharged in March.

His 55-year-old mother told the JoongAng Ilbo Wednesday, “I was surprised when I received phone calls from reporters. My son is a nice and timid boy. He wouldn’t have done something like that.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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