Tokyo: A new military recruit shot and killed two fellow soldiers and wounded a third at a training range in central Japan on Wednesday, the military said, with the 18-year-old suspect detained at the scene.
"During a live-bullet exercise as part of new personnel training, one Self-Defense Forces candidate fired at three personnel," the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) said in a statement, confirming two deaths.
The shooter was an 18-year-old SDF candidate who joined the military in April, GSDF chief of staff Yasunori Morishita told reporters, adding he was detained on the spot by other soldiers.
"This kind of incident is absolutely unforgivable for an organisation tasked with handling weapons, and I take it very seriously," Morishita said.
He said the three victims had been tasked with training new recruits, including the attacker, at the range in the city of Gifu, without further elaborating on their relations.
Earlier in the day a local police spokesman said the suspect, whose identity was being withheld, had been charged with attempted murder.
The cadet "fired a rifle at the victim with the intent to kill", the spokesman said.
National broadcaster NHK reported that one fatality was a 52-year-old supervisor, while the other, and the injured soldier, were both aged 25.
The suspect was quoted by NHK as telling investigators that he had "aimed at" the supervisor, but shot the younger victim first because he was standing in his way.
Aerial footage broadcast by the station showed military and civilians gathered around an emergency vehicle and police blocking nearby roads.
Some appeared to be investigators, wearing covers over their shoes and hair.
A local resident told NHK he saw several emergency vehicles rushing to the area at around 9:30 am (0030 GMT) but had not heard anything before that.
Morishita said that, as far as he was aware, the last gun-related injuries or fatalities caused by GSDF personnel happened in 1984 at a camp in Yamaguchi.
- Recent incidents -
The training range is administered by the region's Camp Moriyama and is a covered facility of more than 65,000 square metres.
Gun possession is tightly controlled in Japan, where violent crime is rare.
But several high-profile incidents have rattled the country over the last year.
In July 2022, former prime minister Shinzo Abe was shot dead on the campaign trail by a man who allegedly targeted him over his links to the Unification Church.
The accused assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, was due to make his first appearance in court this week, but the session was cancelled after a package sent to the facility set off a metal detector.
It was later found to contain no explosives, but rather a petition signed by thousands calling for a lenient sentence for Yamagami.
He has garnered sympathy from some quarters over the effect his mother's devotion to the Unification Church had on his family and childhood.
In April, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida escaped unharmed after a man threw an explosive device towards him at a campaign event.
That incident came shortly before Japan hosted the Group of Seven leaders' summit in Hiroshima and prompted renewed calls for stepped-up security.
Thousands of police were deployed to secure the gathering, which passed without a security incident.
Last month, police in the Nagano region west of Tokyo detained a man after an hours-long knife and shooting rampage, followed by an extended stand-off.
The man killed four people, including two police officers, before he was detained. He is reportedly the son of the speaker of the local city assembly.