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Hostage taker arrested in Japan

This aerial photo shows first responders take position outside the post office where a man is believed to hole up in Warabi city, Saitama prefecture, north of Tokyo, Tuesday, October 31, 2023. PHOTO: AP

TOKYO (AP) — 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 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 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 earlier refused to confirm hostage details on grounds of ensuring their safety.

A suspect, centre, identified as Tsuneo Suzuki, who barricaded himself with a gun at a post office, arrives at a police station in Warabi, north of Tokyo Tuesday, October 31, 2023. PHOTO: AP

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