Tokyo Halloween Attack Suspect Deliberately Targeted Crowded Train

Sunday’s knife rampage on a Tokyo train by a man disguised as a Joker from the “Batman” franchise was a reminder of just how vulnerable trains and subways are to violent and indiscriminate attacks in a metropolis heavily dependent on public transport.

The incident, in which the assailant brandished what appeared to be a kitchen knife and set fire to cars on a Keio Line train on Halloween night, injured 17 passengers. One of them, a 70-year-old man, was in critical condition after being stabbed in the chest. After assaulting the man, the assailant, identified as Kyota Hattori, 24, then dispersed flammable liquid and burned a seat, causing the train to fill with smoke.

Hattori was arrested at the scene for attempted murder. He then told investigators that his motive was to “sentence himself to death” by killing two or more people.

Police said a seemingly unrepentant Hattori said he was “disappointed that I couldn’t follow through on my plan to commit murder”, not apologizing. He said he started harboring a death wish around June and July after his professional and private life, including his relationships with friends, took a turn for the worse.

Hattori’s account paints a picture of a premeditated and meticulously thought out attack. He said he was keen to target a “crowded train with few stops” where “people cannot escape”.

He also admitted to being inspired by a similar wave of stabbing in August on an Odakyu Electric Railway commuter train that injured 10 passengers. The incident, in which a woman in her 20s was seriously injured, occurred despite increased security for the Tokyo Olympics.

Hattori said he prepared for his attack based on reports of the Odakyu incident, police said.

A photo posted on Twitter shows Kyota Hattori, the suspect in a knife attack and arson on a Keio Line train on Sunday night, wearing what appears to be a Joker costume. | KYODO

Photos and videos of the incident went viral on social media, sending shockwaves and triggering a flurry of last-minute alerts just as Sunday’s general election results began to roll in.

Panicked passengers were filmed exiting the train windows to escape, while Hattori – dressed in a costume resembling the Joker, a villain from “Batman” – was shown calmly sitting inside the train smoking a cigarette after his stroke. Two hours before the incident, Hattori had joined other Halloween revelers in Shibuya, Tokyo’s bustling pop culture mecca, police said.

Indiscriminate murderous attacks are still rare in Japan, where possession of firearms is strictly controlled. But in recent years, Japan’s rail hubs have suffered a series of violent stabs, illustrating their vulnerability to acts of terrorism and the lack of preventative measures available to rail operators.

Prior to the attack on the Odakyu Line in August, there was one case in 2018 where a machete-wielding man injured two passengers and fatally stabbed another on board a shinkansen operated by Central Japan Railway Co. In 2015, meanwhile, a man sprayed himself with gasoline and set himself on a JR Central bullet train, killing a woman and injuring 28 people, including damage from smoke inhalation .

The attacks have highlighted the need to strengthen precautions and measures against armed individuals. But because trains are deeply connected to the daily lives of many people, especially in urban areas, rigorous and careful security checks at stations would defeat the need for efficiency and convenience.

While there is a limit to what can be done, action has been taken, however.

In June, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the Transportation Ministry revised the ministerial order to allow rail operators to screen passenger baggage. As part of the review, those who refuse to cooperate with an inspection will be asked to vacate the premises.

A photo provided by a passenger shows people fleeing a fire inside a Keio Line train at Kokuryo Station in Tokyo on Sunday evening following a knife attack and arson on board .  |  KYODO
A photo provided by a passenger shows people fleeing a fire inside a Keio Line train at Kokuryo Station in Tokyo on Sunday evening following a knife attack and arson on board . | KYODO

Following the stabbing rampage on the Odakyu Line, the ministry compiled a set of anti-violence policies in September that included a more visible security presence at stations and enhanced cooperation between railway operators and police forces.

The ministry also said it would consider applying cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology to analyze images from security cameras to better detect suspicious individuals. Another key point was to use pictograms to raise awareness of existing emergency alarms on trains that passengers can use to alert train crews.

The fatal stab at the shinkansen in 2018 also prompted rail companies to step up their security measures.

Companies such as East Japan Railway Co. and JR Central have since taken steps to install shinkansen with items such as shields, self-defense poles, tear gas canisters, and anti-knife gloves and vests that members of the crew can use in an emergency. These are now also in place at major stations stopped by shinkansen and conventional trains.

A possible countermeasure is to increase the number of security personnel tasked with patrolling trains, said rail analyst Itsuki Nishiue.

In response to the stabbing of 2018, security guards are now stationed on all high-speed trains operated by JR Central. The analyst said similar measures could be a possibility for conventional trains plying the capital, although obstacles to their introduction remain high.

“Considering the large number of trains operated each day and the crowded status of trains at rush hour, it is easier said than done” to have security on standby, Nishiue said. “In addition, rail operators have been hit hard by the pandemic and are having financial difficulties, so the question naturally arises of how to finance these additional human resources,” he said.

Firefighters gather for a rescue operation at Kokuryo Station on the Keio Line in Tokyo on Sunday evening following a stabbing and arson aboard a train.  |  KYODO
Firefighters gather for a rescue operation at Kokuryo Station on the Keio Line in Tokyo on Sunday evening following a stabbing and arson aboard a train. | KYODO

Likewise, the idea of ​​having passengers’ luggage checked at stations is not particularly realistic, as Japan has a significant number of passengers and commuters dependent on trains and subways. According to data from Tokyo Metro Co., more than 7 million people used its metro system every day before the pandemic.

“It is true that there are a large number of people using trains in Japan, but Sunday’s incident may be a signal that we are now at a stage where we need to come up with measures, including simple inspections of the trains. luggage, to achieve the safety of railways, even at the expense of their convenience, ”Nishiue said.

Kyodo information added

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