TOKYO: Nine people were hurt, one seriously, when a man deliberately ploughed his car into crowds celebrating New Year’s Eve along a famous Tokyo street, police and media said on Tuesday.
With an “intent to murder”, a man identified as 21-year-old Kazuhiro Kusakabe drove a small vehicle into Takeshita Street in Tokyo’s fashion district of Harajuku at 10 minutes past midnight, a police spokesman told AFP.
According to national broadcaster NHK, Kusakabe told police he was acting in “retribution for the death penalty” without giving more precise details.
NHK footage showed a small box vehicle with a smashed front and paramedics carrying people on stretchers into ambulances.
Local media said a container with kerosene inside was found inside the rental car.
The attacker, who reportedly drove the vehicle from the western region of Osaka, has told investigators that he planned to burn the vehicle, according to private network Fuji TV.
One witness told NHK it was a “ghastly scene”. “I saw some guys collapsed on the street. As I walked closer toward the scene, many more people had fallen on the ground. By the time I reached the exact place, paramedics were already there helping people,” he said. Another witness, who runs a clothing shop in the area, said: “I am shocked that something like this happened on Takeshita Street.”
Police immediately cordoned off the street, which during the day is packed with tourists trying to get a taste of Japan’s extravagant youth and food culture.
One college student suffered serious injuries during the attack and was undergoing surgery, the police spokesman told AFP. Local media reported the student was in a coma.
Kusakabe was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, police said.
According to local media, Kusakabe hit a total of eight people and assaulted another on the street, which was closed to traffic for the New Year celebrations.
The vehicle hit its first victim about 30 metres into the narrow street before knocking down seven more over the next 100 metres, according to the Sankei Shimbun newspaper. He then fled on foot, but police caught him at a local park soon after, local media said.
There is no information so far to suggest foreign tourists were among the injured, the police spokesman said. TV Asahi said officers were investigating whether the suspect is fit for trial.
Takeshita Street is packed with small shops and is considered the centre of youth culture and fashion in Japan, attracting tens of thousands of international tourists every day.
Unlike in other major cities, New Year in Tokyo is a relatively muted affair.
There is no major fireworks display and no central point whererevellers gather to see in the New Year.
Instead, Japanese people tend to see in the New Year with families and go to the shrine to pray for good fortune in the year to come.
Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2019