Pickpockets mace station; 27 hurt

One arrested in chaos on JR platform

Tokyo commuters had a flashback to the March 1995 sarin attack on the subway system Thursday when four suspected pickpockets released what appeared to be mace at a railway station while trying to flee police, injuring 27 people.

One of the four, South Korean national Chim Byong Gun, 38, was arrested on the spot for causing injuries by using the spray on a platform at JR Nishi-Nippori Station in Arakawa Ward at 9:50 a.m., they said.

Most of the injuries were light, but two officers from the Metropolitan Police Department’s Komagome Police Station suffered severe throat and and skin injuries.

The man also had a kitchen knife with a 21-cm blade, police said. His three colleagues remain at large.

Chim was arrested by Osaka Prefectural Police in 2002 and sentenced to three years in prison for robbery and other charges and was deported last fall. He told police he entered Japan illegally late last year, investigators said.

According to police and station workers, the two officers first spotted the four outside a lavatory near a ticket gate, judged them suspicious and tried to question them.

The four then fled to the platform, where Chim released the spray, police said.

Those who escaped were described as a man in his mid-40s between 160 cm and 170 cm tall, a man in his 30s about 170 cm tall, and a man with short hair, police said.

Dozens of ambulances, police cars and fire engines converged on the station.

“I didn’t quite get what had happened at the station,” said a 21-year-old female office worker who witnessed the scene after getting off a train. She said she saw many people coughing on the platform covering their mouths and eyes with handkerchiefs.

“Then I saw a man being held by police,” she said. “It seemed something had been sprayed at people, and I got scared.”