Japan police detain man after post office hostage drama

Mari Yamaguchi |

An elderly man has been taken to a police station in the back seat of a police car.
An elderly man has been taken to a police station in the back seat of a police car.

Police in Japan have ended an eight-hour standoff with a gunman at a post office by arresting the suspect after two hostages were freed safely.

The man had entered the post office on Tuesday with a gun in Warabi, north of Tokyo, about an hour after the hospital shooting in which two people were wounded in the nearby city of Toda. 

Footage on NHK television showed an elderly man sitting between two police officers in the back seat of a police car that drove past reporters and headed to a local police station. 

Police captured the gunman when they stormed into the building, about an hour after the second of the two postal staff who remained in the building had escaped unhurt. The other hostage had walked out safely nearly two hours earlier, according to NHK reports. 

Police were investigating the hospital and post office attacks together because of a possibility they are related. They are also looking into a fire that broke out at a building, which is reportedly the suspect’s apartment block, near the hospital around the time of the shooting.

Police identified the suspect as Tsuneo Suzuki, a jobless 86-year-old resident of Toda and arrested him on suspicion of compulsion and taking hostages, a crime that carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison. 

An 86-year-old suspected gunman is in custody after an eight-hour standoff in Japan.

Suzuki allegedly entered the post office and took two female staff in their 20s and 30s at gun point, while demanding police officials arrange a meeting with an unidentified person, police said, without giving details including who he was demanding to meet. 

Police are also examining details of the gun, including if it was modified, and how he obtained it, as well as his background and motives. Kyodo News agency said he was also carrying two knives, a kerosene container and a bottle containing an unidentified liquid. 

Hundreds of police had surrounded the building housing the post office. Television footage showed officers wearing helmets and bulletproof vests squatting behind the doors of a patrol vehicle parked outside. The video also showed the suspect — an older-looking man wearing a cap and holding a gun — when he showed up briefly at the entrance. 

Earlier on Tuesday, Saitama Prefectural Police said two men — a doctor in his 40s and a patient in his 60s — were wounded after blasts resembling gunfire were heard outside a general hospital in the city of Toda, just north of Tokyo. 

The victims were both conscious and their wounds are not life-threatening, police said. Kyodo News said the two were believed to be inside a consultation room on the first floor when they were attacked, and that cracks were found in the window. 

Police said the attacker apparently fired his gun from the street and then fled on a motorcycle.

In a third incident being investigated by police, a fire that broke out at an apartment building near the hospital in Toda around the time of the shooting. 

Most of the post office staff were able to leave at the beginning of the standoff, but two remained inside. One was seen to leave after about five hours, and the second left two hours later.

Police had urged residents near the post office to take shelter at a facility set up by the authorities. About 300 children from a nearby school who usually walk home were taken home by bus as a precaution, local media reported. 

Japan has strict gun control laws, but in recent years, there has been a growing concern about handmade weapons, such as the one allegedly used in the July 2022 assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.