An 18-year-old military recruit has been detained after he shot and killed two fellow soldiers and wounded a third at a training range in central Japan.

“During a live-bullet exercise as part of new personnel training, one Self-Defense Force candidate fired at three personnel,” the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) said in a statement.

The 18-year-old, who joined the military in April, was detained on the spot by other soldiers, said the GSDF chief of staff, Yasunori Morishita.

“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.

Earlier in the day, a local police spokesperson 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”, they said.

The 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.

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Aerial footage broadcast by the station showed military and civilian personnel 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 about 9.30am 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.

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.

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In April, the 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 standoff. 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.

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