Tokyo car attack suspect had planned to kill Meiji Shrine-goers with homemade flamethrower

The suspect drove his car into nearby Takeshita-dori in the bustling Harajuku district and mowed down pedestrians after failing to enter the grounds of the shrine due to traffic regulations.
The suspect drove his car into nearby Takeshita-dori in the bustling Harajuku district and mowed down pedestrians after failing to enter the grounds of the shrine due to traffic regulations.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A man arrested for driving a car into pedestrians in Tokyo on New Year's Day had planned to attack worshippers at the city's famous Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine) with kerosene, investigative sources said.

The suspect, 21-year-old Kazuhiro Kusakabe, was quoted by police as saying that he "would make a flamethrower and burn people" with it. The Metropolitan Police Department believe that Kusakabe initially planned to indiscriminately target and kill worshippers at the shrine, a major shrine where Japanese pray for good luck in the new year. 

Kusakabe left Neyagawa, in Osaka Prefecture, on Monday morning (Dec 31) after loading a plastic tank filled with kerosene and a high-pressure washer into a rental car, the sources said.

He then drove to Tokyo through the Tomei Expressway and arrived near the shrine after noon. He stayed in the car, which he parked on a road near the shrine, late into the night.

According to the sources, Kusakabe told police that he "would set a fire after the number of worshippers increased".

He used adhesive tape to attach a device to ignite the kerosene to the tip of the nozzle of the washer.

But when he tried to pump kerosene from the tank and spray it with the washer in the parked car after 11 pm on New Year's Eve, he could not spray the kerosene as wide as he had expected, and instead doused himself with kerosene, the sources said.

Kusakabe then tried to slam his car into the shrine, but could not enter the grounds of the shrine due to traffic regulations. Shortly after midnight on Tuesday, he drove his car into nearby Takeshita-dori in the bustling Harajuku district and mowed down pedestrians.

When he was placed under police custody, Kusakabe told police that if he could run away from the ramming incident, he would have committed a terrorist act in Ueno, Tokyo, the sources said.

 

He told police after his arrest that he would also have committed a similar attack in Osaka.

Kusakabe, who is from Osaka, attended a vocational language school in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, after graduating from high school. He lived alone in Chiba Prefecture.

He later dropped out of the school and attended a private university in the Kansai region from April 2018, according to the sources.

During the attack on Tuesday, Kusakabe knocked down eight men aged between 19 and 51 as he drove through about a third of the 350m street, which was closed to vehicular traffic at the time. He came to a stop when he crashed the rented vehicle into a building.

One of those injured, a 19-year-old undergraduate, was rushed to hospital in critical condition. Four others suffered severe injuries such as fractures and head injuries, while the remaining three suffered minor bruises. 

The ninth victim, a 19-year-old man, was assaulted by Kusakabe as the latter fled on foot. Kusakabe was arrested 20 minutes later at the nearby Yoyogi Park.