Hostages freed from Japan bank after police find captor sleeping

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 November, 2012, 3:11am

Japanese police rescued four hostages from a bank yesterday and arrested the knife-wielding man who had held them captive for more than 12 hours while demanding the prime minister resign, officials said.

In a televised news conference, a police spokesman said the hostage-taker, identified as 32-year-old Koji Nagakubo, was arrested on suspicion of taking a total of five people captive, including one person whom he had released earlier.

All the hostages were safe and in protective custody following the pre-dawn police raid, the spokesman said, though local media reported one of them – a 19-year-old female bank employee –  was slightly injured.

The siege began on Thursday afternoon at the Zoshi branch of the Toyokawa Shinkin Bank in the otherwise quiet residential area of Toyokawa city in central Aichi prefecture.

Brandishing a survival knife, he took four employees and a female customer hostage and demanded the cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda step down, local media said.

Noda last week called an election for December 16, which he is expected to lose.

During initial questioning by police, the suspect admitted to the allegations, but he did not detail the motive of his actions, public broadcaster NHK reported.

About 13 hours after the incident began, police wearing protective gear and carrying shields rushed the office and overpowered the man. They found him asleep in a chair with one of his arms tied by rope to one of his captives, Moe Takeyama, 19, whose hands had been bound.

"It was difficult to check inside, but we took action placing top priority on the safety of the hostages," an investigator told NHK. "We believe we took the best possible way."

Television footage showed a dozen police breaking the window on the second floor of the building before moving to the ground floor, where the man waved his knife at the hostages.

The captor, also in possession of another knife, handcuffed at least one of the hostages, NHK said, adding that all police involved in the rescue operation were unhurt.

"I was so relieved because no one was (seriously) injured," one neighbour told Tokyo Broadcasting System Television.

Television footage earlier showed a man who appeared to be a police officer carrying a megaphone and a plastic bag to a side door of the building guarded by police.

The building's shutters were down but lights could be seen inside.

Shortly before the incident, a person police believe was the hostage-taker had attempted to break in to another bank just 150 metres away, NHK reported.