Japan mourns stabbing victims, debates knife laws

  • World
  • Wednesday, 11 Jun 2008

MYT 5:31:54 PM

TOKYO (Reuters) - Families and friends mourned the seven people killed in a stabbing attack on a busy Tokyo shopping street as Japan's cabinet ministers discussed tightening knife regulations on Wednesday.

People offer prayers to victims killed on Sunday in Tokyo's Akihabara district June 11, 2008. (REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao)

Tomohiro Kato, a disaffected 25-year-old factory worker, is suspected of driving a truck into a group of pedestrians, then getting out and stabbing random passers-by with a 12.5 cm double-edged dagger he bought at a military goods store.

In Akihabara, an area popular with fans of electronic goods, video games and "anime" cartoon characters, flowers and other offerings piled up on the street close to the scene of the killings, where a further 10 people were injured.

"Why him?" sobbed one girl mourning a childhood friend who was among the victims.

"He was just about to turn 20 and we were all planning to meet up," she told broadcaster TBS.

Security camera footage broadcast on television showed Kato apparently demonstrating stabbing motions as he discussed his purchases with an assistant at the store where media said he bought five knives just days before the attack.

"I want him to express some regret," a colleague of a 33-year-old chef killed in the incident said of Kato at a wake on Tuesday, a regional Tokyo newspaper reported.

Japanese video game maker Konami cancelled three promotional events for its "Metal Gear Solid 4" military stealth-action game that it had planned to hold in Akihabara and other locations around Tokyo, citing customer safety concerns after the fatal stabbings.

Media raised questions over the sale of military-style knives in Japan, which prides itself on its relatively low crime rates, and about whether the attack could have been prevented after Kato posted warnings on a website.

"I have learned that there is an amazing variety of knives in circulation," top government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura told reporters when asked about regulations on military-style knives.

He called a meeting of relevant cabinet ministers later in the day to discuss ways of preventing a recurrence.

Kato's parents apologised and spoke of their shock on Tuesday night when confronted by media and onlookers outside the family home in Aomori, on the northern tip of Japan's main island of Honshu.

"I apologise deeply to those who were killed and injured," Kato's father said, as the couple bowed repeatedly. Their faces were kept hidden, but Kato's mother collapsed to the ground, apparently overcome with emotion, as he spoke.

Kato had become disillusioned with life after failing to keep up with the academic level at an elite high school, many media reports have said.

He decided on the attack after arriving at work to find his uniform missing, which he may have interpreted to mean he had been fired, reports said.

(Additional reporting by Mari Saito)

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