Police were surrounding a post office in Japan late Tuesday as a suspected gunman held at least two people hostage following an apparent shooting at a nearby hospital that wounded two people.
TV images showed the suspect, reported to possibly be in his 80s, inside the building with what looked like a gun attached to a cord around his neck.
His motive was unclear but police believe he was also involved in the incident at the hospital and media reports said that a fire in an apartment block may also be linked.
“At approximately 2:15 p.m. today, a person took hostages and holed up at a post office in Chuo 5-chome area of Warabi city… The perpetrator is possessing what appears to be a gun,” the city’s authorities said on their website.
“Citizens near the scene are urged to follow police instructions and evacuate in accordance with police instructions.”
Local media NTV reported that at least one woman in her 20s and another woman in her 30s were inside the post office, citing police sources.
Later, television footage showed one of the hostages, a woman in her 20s, walking out of the post office shortly before 7:30p.m. It was unclear how many people were still inside.
Police were talking to the man by telephone, NTV reported.
The Yomiuri daily had reported earlier that around 10 post office staff may be inside the building and that the suspect may be carrying kerosene.
Police urged 300 residents in the area to evacuate, broadcaster TBS said.
Several police cars with flashing lights were situated around the substantial three-storey building as night fell, footage showed.
The surrounding streets were deserted.
The incident came as police investigated a suspected shooting at a hospital in nearby Toda that may have been carried out by the same man.
“It’s been communicated to us that police believe the man was at the hospital and came to the post office,” a city official told AFP.
Two people were slightly wounded — reportedly a doctor and a patient — after shots were apparently fired from the street into a ground-floor room.
“After 1 p.m, I heard a woman shouting ‘Someone, please come,’ and a nurse told me, ‘Stay away from the windows and keep your head low,'” a man in his 60s who was inside the hospital told broadcaster NHK.
“Around 2 p.m, I looked inside the doctor’s office, and saw a pool of blood next to an examination table. I didn’t hear a gunshot. But a nurse said she heard two gunshots,” the man said.
Fuji TV said police were also investigating a possible link between the man and a fire at an apartment building in Toda city earlier in the day. No one was injured in the fire, it said.
Violent crime is rare in Japan, in part because of strict regulations on gun ownership.
Japan has one of the lowest murder rates in the world.
But recent years have seen violent crimes, including gun attacks, make headlines, most notably the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe last year.
In April, a man was arrested for allegedly hurling an explosive towards Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as he campaigned in the city of Wakayama. Kishida was unharmed.
The following month, a man holed up in a building after allegedly killing four people, including two police officers and an elderly woman, in a gun and knife attack.
Masanori Aoki, 31, was taken into custody at his house near the city of Nakano, police said at the time. (AFP)