• Kyodo

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Police are set to arrest a Japanese man living in New York on suspicion of vandalizing a Chiba shrine with an oily liquid, police sources said Monday.

The 52-year-old man, who claims to be the founder of a religious body, is suspected of sprinkling the oily substance at Katori Shrine in Chiba Prefecture in late March and could be linked to numerous other cases of vandalism at shrines and temples nationwide, the sources said.

The shrine is among 48 cultural and religious sites, some of them World Heritage sites, in 16 prefectures that have been vandalized with an oily liquid in recent months.

Video footage that has been posted online, apparently by the man’s religious group, shows him speaking before his followers, saying he has sprinkled oil at temples and shrines in an effort to “purify” the sites. It also shows him saying he has visited over 100 sites to “fight the devil.”

A woman at the group’s rented office in central Tokyo confirmed the man is a practitioner, but she said he is usually in New York and his last visit to Japan was in January.

Vandalized sites include Todaiji Temple in Nara Prefecture, Toji Temple and Nijo Castle in Kyoto, and Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Chiba Prefecture.

Footage from security cameras at Katori Shrine and Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, as well as a temple in Nara Prefecture, show a person who appears to be the man at those sites the same day they were hit by vandalism, according to investigators.

The National Police Agency had instructed police throughout the country to enhance patrols, while investigators continued examining the security camera footage and the liquid used during the vandalism attempts.

Many temples and shrines tightened security following reports of the vandalism, and even if an arrest is made, some said they will still keep a vigilant watch to prevent copycat crimes.