News

Monday June 9, 2008

Blog warnings posted ahead of Tokyo knife rampage

By Isabel Reynolds

TOKYO (Reuters) - A man arrested for killing seven people in a knife rampage on a crowded Tokyo shopping street posted dozens of warning messages on the Internet in the hours leading up to the attack, Japanese media reported on Monday.

A woman places flowers at a stall set up for victims killed on Sunday in Tokyo's Akihabara district June 9, 2008. (REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao)

Japanese police arrested a 25-year-old blood-spattered man at the scene for driving a truck into a crowd of Sunday shoppers in Akihabara, Tokyo's biggest electronics shopping district, and then walking down the street stabbing people at random.

Passers by prayed and dropped flowers on Monday at the scene of the attack, as a bewildered Japan tried to make sense of the latest in a series of random acts of violence.

Before the rampage in Akihabara, the arrested man, Tomohiro Kato, had warned on an Internet site that "I will kill people in Akihabara", Japanese media reported.

"I will crash my car and when the car becomes unusable, I will use a knife. Good-bye, everyone!," the man wrote on his Internet site early Sunday morning, the Asahi newspaper said.

The Mainichi newspaper said Tokyo police had heard of similar posts on another Internet site, but could not stop the attacks.

"I'm used to acting like a good person. I can fool everyone easily," Kato wrote, adding he was struggling to make friends.

In the last of more than two dozen Internet postings, he wrote a few minutes before the truck was rammed into the crowd: "The time has come."

Sunday's attack followed the killing of one person in a random stabbing outside a train station north of Tokyo in March, while five were hurt in a similar attack in January.

Also in March, a teenager pushed a stranger under a train in western Japan, saying he wanted to kill someone.

The latest attack sparked talk among Tokyo residents of failing communities and declining morality in a country proud of its low crime rate.

"Recently, peoples' relationships have become strained," said 29-year-old Taishi Ikeda, who works in the publishing industry. "There's no-one to talk to when you're troubled."

The suspect in Sunday's attack lived alone and had a temporary job at a car factory, media said. He was reported to be a regular visitor to Akihabara, known for high tech electronic products sold alongside "anime" cartoon goods and cafes where waitresses dress as French maids.

FEELING LIKE FAILURES

Japan's obsession with exam grades made many feel like failures and the decline of the extended family had also cut support for troubled youngsters, said Jinsuke Kageyama, a criminal psychologist at Tokyo Institute of Technology.

"Japan has entered a period of selfishness. People have the feeling that they can do anything," he said.

"But when these people fail to fulfil themselves in socially acceptable ways, they are treated as losers and their frustration builds up," he added.

"A series of disappointments can lead them to try to regain their sense of self through crime."

Tackling the root causes of such attacks would be a complex task, and harsher penalties would likely not be helpful, he said.

Total reported crime has been falling for five years, but Japan has toughened up sentencing and increased the pace at which it carries out executions in recent months under Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama, a supporter of the death penalty.

"If they have the urge to commit suicide, people will do these things in countries that have the death penalty," Kageyama said.

Some members of the public pointed to an economic downturn and government policy as reasons for rising frustration.

"Politicians don't think about the people, they raise taxes and change the healthcare system," said Kentaro Inoue, a 56-year-old worker for an architectural firm.

"I think that's what breeds this violent behaviour. People begin to hate society when they can't succeed."

Japan's top government spokesman, Nobutaka Machimura said it was hard to pin down the reason for Sunday's attack but tighter controls should be considered on survival knives like the one the attacker used.

(Additional reporting by Mari Saito and Teruaki Ueno)

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