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Suspect, 86, is in custody in Japan after 8-hour hostage drama


TOKYO — Police ended an eight-hour standoff at a post office north of Tokyo by arresting the armed suspect after two hostages were freed safely in an attack authorities said could be related to an earlier shooting at a hospital.

The man had entered the post office with a gun in Warabi on Tuesday 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 older 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 said they captured the suspect when they stormed into the building, about an hour after the second of the two postal staff members who remained in the building had escaped unhurt. The other hostage had walked out safely nearly two hours earlier, according to NHK reports.

Police said they were investigating the hospital and post office attacks together because they could be related. They are also looking into a fire in a building where the suspect reportedly lived.

Police identified the suspect as Tsuneo Suzuki, an 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.

Suzuki allegedly entered the post office and took two female staff members in their 20s and 30s at gunpoint, while demanding police officials arrange a meeting with an unidentified person, police said, without giving details including whom he was demanding to meet. Police earlier refused to confirm hostage details on grounds of ensuring their safety.

Police are also examining details of the gun, including whether 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.

According to local reports, a man injured two people at a hospital in Toda City and then took hostages at a post office in Warabi City. There are also reports that he is in possession of what is suspected to be a gun.
Police had urged residents near the post office to take shelter at a facility set up by the authorities.Takashi Aoyama / Getty Images

Hundreds of police officers 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 — wearing a cap and holding a gun — when he showed up briefly at the entrance.

Earlier Tuesday, Saitama Prefectural Police said two men — a doctor in his 40s and a patient in his 60s — were wounded as apparent gunfire was heard outside a hospital in Toda.

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 windows were broken. Police said they were investigating whether the doctor and the patient were hit by glass shards or a bullet.

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

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 growing concern about handmade weapons, such as the one used in the July 2022 assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.