National / Crime & Legal

Man who plowed car into pedestrians on New Year's had planned to ignite crowds at Meiji Shrine

Kyodo

The arrested driver of a car that plowed into a crowd in the Harajuku district of Tokyo at New Year has said he was planning to spray kerosene at people at a popular Shinto shrine and set them ablaze, investigative sources said Friday.

In the rented minicar used in the attack, police found a 20-liter tank of kerosene and a high-pressure water sprayer with an ignition tool attached that the 21-year-old suspect, Kazuhiro Kusakabe, said he bought to carry out the plan.

“I was going to use the sprayer and kerosene to set fire to crowds at Meiji Shrine,” Kusakabe, identified by police as a resident of Osaka Prefecture, was quoted as saying, adding that he drove into the pedestrians after “things didn’t go well.”

He also said he wanted to “target areas where there were many people” and had considered Osaka as well as Tokyo, according to the sources.

Earlier the suspect had told investigators he’d kept his foot on the gas pedal during the attack. As no tire marks have been found on Takeshita-dori, police believe Kusakabe intended to commit murder.

Kusakabe was arrested on New Year’s Day, on suspicion of attempted murder, after ramming his car into pedestrians on the shopping street in Harajuku, a center of youth culture and fashion.

Eight people were injured, including a 19-year-old university student living in Tokyo who remains unconscious due to a serious head injury.

The suspect told police earlier that he had intended to kill the pedestrians he hit “in retaliation for an execution,” while also claiming it was an act of terrorism.

Kusakabe obtained his driver’s license in early December and booked the vehicle four days before the attack.

The street was closed to vehicles at the time of the incident as it was expected to be crowded on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

In a new development possibly linked to the car rampage, Kazuo Nakano, a 36-year-old police officer attached to Harajuku Police Station, was found in the basement of the police station at around 10 p.m. Wednesday, bleeding from his head. He was later confirmed dead at a hospital.

His gun was found near his right hand and police believe he killed himself.

Nakano had been serving at the police station since August. He was working from Monday through Tuesday, which was New Year’s Day, to be on alert when the area became packed with people visiting at New Year.