• Kyodo


Five people died Tuesday in an arson attack at a branch office of consumer credit firm Takefuji Corp. in Aomori Prefecture.

Firefighters examine a branch office of Takefuji Corp. in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture.

The fire was started by an unidentified man who walked into the office in Hirosaki and demanded money while pouring a gasoline-like liquid around the room, police said.

The suspect, apparently in his 40s and wearing light-blue clothes, entered the outlet shortly before 10:50 a.m. and quickly fled after starting the blaze.

The office was nearly completely destroyed, and the man is still at large, police said.

Police said the five who died were among nine workers in the office, which was located on the top floor of a three-story building. The five are believed to be Shinji Tazawa, 36, Haruka Ota, 20, Shiori Kasai, 22, Yoko Sasamori, 46, and Takako Fukui, 30 — all of whom have been missing since the attack, police said. Authorities said they will conduct autopsies today to identify the bodies.

The other four — 30-year-old branch head Yoshihisa Torii, Yuki Nakamura, 19, Minako Seino, 20 and Michiko Abe, 22 — suffered burns and were taken to a hospital.

The man was described as being between 40 and 45 years old and about 160 cm to 165 cm tall. He spoke in the local Tsugaru dialect, investigators said.

An official with Takefuji’s headquarters in Tokyo, said the company has no idea why it was attacked.

According to the headquarters, there were six women and three men in the office when the attack occurred.

The suspect was apparently the only visitor at the time, police said. Torii refused to hand over any money, and the man ignited the liquid and fled. Police received an emergency call from Torii at 10:48 a.m. saying, “A man is about to set fire (to the office).”

Yoshihiro Kato, the 31-year-old manager of a McDonald’s fast-food restaurant nearby, and Katsuhiro Sato, 34, who was dispatched to clean the restaurant, were among those who rushed to the scene in an attempt to rescue people from the blaze by placing a ladder against the building.

According to the men, McDonald’s customers first noticed the fire from the building across the street, and a woman could be seen at the window screaming for help.

Sato said he and others brought the ladder they were using for the cleaning work over to the burning building and called on those trapped inside to climb down. However, only four people managed to escape, one of whom said between gasps that others were still inside.

The branch was located about 2 km away from JR Hirosaki Station.

Takefuji is a major consumer credit firm established in 1966 and capitalized at roughly 30 billion yen. It has some 1,450 branches nationwide, including 928 unmanned branches, and about 3,400 employees. It listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in December 1998.

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