Japanese police on Tuesday surrounded a post office where a man with a gun was holed up, and said the case may be linked to a shooting earlier in the day at a nearby hospital that wounded two people.
Hours later, the standoff continued and one post office employee was still believed to be inside the building, a woman who was reportedly taken hostage by the gunman. Japanese media said police were negotiating for her release over the phone.
Hundreds of police were mobilized and surrounded the building housing the post office in the city of Warabi, reports said.
Television footage showed officers wearing helmets and bulletproof vests squatting behind the doors of a patrol vehicle parked outside. The video also showed the suspect — an older-looking man wearing a cap and holding a gun — when he showed up briefly at the entrance.
Earlier Tuesday, Saitama Prefectural Police said two men — a doctor in his 40s and a patient in his 60s — were wounded after blasts resembling gunfire were heard outside a general hospital in the city of Toda, just north of Tokyo.
The victims were both conscious and their wounds are not life-threatening, police said. Kyodo News agency said the two were believed to be inside a consultation room on the first floor when they were attacked, and that cracks were found in the window.
Police said the attacker apparently fired his gun from the street and then fled on a motorcycle.
Later, a man with a handgun was reported to have holed up inside the post office in Warabi, just north of Toda. Police said the two cases are being investigated together because of a possibility that they involve the same suspect.
The suspect was a man believed to be in his 50s to 70s, police said.
A number of post office staff safely escaped from the building, police said. Two remained inside as the drama unfolded but may not have been seen by the gunman.
A woman in her 70s who apparently happened to be at the post office when the gunman came in told Kyodo that she heard policemen shouting at someone not to shoot.
Then she heard a “bang,” turned around and was ushered out from a backdoor by the post office staff. As she was getting out, she said she heard someone — presumably the suspect — threatening to pour kerosine all over the place, Kyodo reported.
More than five hours after the standoff began, one member of postal staff came out uninjured. The scene was shown on NHK television as the employee, identified as a woman in her 20s, walked out and was surrounded by police.
Police urged residents near the post office to take shelter at a facility set up by the authorities. About 300 children from a nearby school who usually walk home were taken home by bus as a precaution, local media reported.
In a third suspicious case, police are also investigating a fire that broke out at an apartment building near the hospital in Toda around the time of the shooting.
Japan has strict gun control laws, but in recent years, there has been a growing concern about handmade weapons, such as the one allegedly used in the July 2022 assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.