National / Crime & Legal

Stabbings just seconds apart, as passengers panicked: Investigators reveal details of shinkansen attack

Kyodo

The suspect in Saturday night’s deadly knife attack on a bullet train allegedly slashed two women who sat next to him in the space of just a few seconds, investigators said Tuesday.

Ichiro Kojima, 22, who was sent to prosecutors Monday on suspicion of murder, “suddenly stood up and hacked at me without saying anything,” police quoted a 27-year-old woman, who had been seated to his right, as saying. She soon escaped to the rear of the 12th car of the shinkansen, which was bound for Shin-Osaka Station from Tokyo.

The other woman, 26, who sat on his left across the aisle, rushed to the rear of the car immediately after noticing what happened, but was allegedly slashed by Kojima from behind, the police said.

Moments later, Kotaro Umeda, 38, who sat two rows behind the suspect, confronted Kojima, they said. Umeda was stabbed in the neck, chest and shoulders in the ensuing scuffle and died from the wounds. The police are analyzing security camera footage from the shinkansen car in question provided by Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai).

Following the attack, many passengers removed seat cushions and used them to protect themselves as they fled to the other coaches in panic.

JR Tokai, which operates the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, said it did not expect that passengers would use the seat cushions as protective shields in emergencies, but some witnesses said the conductor told them to do so.

According to the company, the cushions can be easily removed by hand without using tools and carried. When passengers spill their drink on them or smudge them, cleaning staff exchange them.

The railway company’s contingency plan says crew members should protect themselves against suspicious or threatening persons by using seat cushions or bags as shields. But it does not refer to the use of seat cushions by passengers for this purpose.

Following the incident, West Japan Railway Co. (JR West), which runs the Sanyo Shinkansen Line, said it is now considering letting crew members use seat cushions to protect themselves in emergencies.

Transport minister Keiichi Ishii told a news conference Tuesday the government will “cautiously study” whether to introduce checks of carry-on luggage to boost shinkansen security.

“Careful consideration is necessary to assess whether it is possible to smoothly conduct (luggage inspections) without impairing passenger convenience and the punctuality of railway services,” Ishii said.

The minister said there are 460,000 daily users of the Tokaido Shinkansen Line and that the “characteristics of the mass transit system should be taken into consideration” in planning new safety measures.

He said luggage inspections would be effective in preventing passengers from boarding with weapons, but limited space at ticket gates and a larger number of passengers compared with those at airports could hamper such procedures.

On Sunday, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry requested that railway operators report their measures for ensuring safety at their facilities by July 11.