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18-year-old trainee accused of shooting 3 soldiers at firing range on Japanese army base, killing 2

Japanese Self Defense Force members gather near a facility in a base firing range, following a deadly shooting in Gifu, central Japan, Wednesday, June 14, 2023. A Japanese soldier was arrested Wednesday after allegedly shooting three colleagues at an army base in central Japan, officials said. (Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO (AP) — An 18-year-old army trainee shot three fellow soldiers at a firing range on a Japanese army base Wednesday, killing two of them, officials said.

The suspect was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder at the scene in Gifu prefecture in central Japan, police said.

The suspect fired a rifle at the soldiers during a shooting exercise at the Hino Kihon firing range, police said.

The Ground Self Defense Force, Japan’s army, confirmed that two of those wounded were later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Yasunori Morishita said the suspect joined the military in April and the three soldiers were assisting his shooting exercise as instructors.

“An organization that handles weapons should never allow an incident like this to happen,” Morishita said at a news conference. “As head of the army, I take this very seriously.”

Morishita said he has ordered a temporary suspension of exercises involving shooting and explosives across the country while the army investigates and prepares safety measures to prevent a recurrence.

A number of other people were believed to be participating in the training when the shooting occurred, but details are still under investigation, an army official said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.

Japan has been known for its safety, with strict gun control laws, but high-profile violence has occurred in recent years, including shootings and random knifings on subways and arson attacks, and there is growing concern about homemade guns and explosives.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was almost hit by a pipe bomb thrown by a person at an election campaign venue in April.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated in July 2022 by an attacker using a handmade gun.

Last month, a man was arrested after he allegedly shot two police officers to death after killing two women with a knife in Nagano prefecture.