A car has rammed pedestrians on a busy Tokyo street that was closed to traffic for New Year festivities. A 21-year-old man initially confessed to a terrorist act but later recanted, leaving investigators puzzled about his motives.
The car, which was driving in a wrong lane, bulldozed into revelers in Japan’s capital city as it swerved into a shopping street bustling with people just after midnight, NHK reported.
The ramming is believed to have been intentional, as the street had been closed to traffic due to the New Year celebrations. Hundreds of people were heading to a nearby shrine to pray for good luck in the new year.
Eight people were injured in the incident, including one male university student who was taken to hospital in critical condition. Teenagers and adults in their 50s are among the victims.
The driver was identified as 21-year-old Kazuhiro Kusakabe. He initially attempted to flee the scene on foot but was located and apprehended by police some 20 minutes after the incident.
Kusakabe repeatedly changed his story when questioned about his motives. Initially, the 21-year-old claimed that he had carried out a terrorist attack. However, he then backtracked on that, saying instead that he had attempted a murder. Shortly after, Kusakabe again changed his tune, claiming that he rammed the people in response to executions. It is unclear if he was referring to the system of capital punishment that exists in Japan, or to specific executions.
Japan executed 15 people in 2018, its highest number in one year since 2008. Death penalties are carried out with no advance warning to an inmate, his or her family or their legal representative. Earlier this year, Japan executed 13 members of the Aum Shinrikyo sect that had carried out a sarin chemical attack on Tokyo subway in 1995. Their deaths rekindled the debate on capital punishment, with the US and Japan being the only countries among the G7 group that still have recourse to it.
Last week, Japan executed two prisoners who had been on death row since 2004, charged with robbery and murder.