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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hijacker Says Sorry, Police Probe Motive

HAKODATE, Japan -- A 52-year-old bank manager on medical leave apologized Thursday for commandeering a jumbo jet for nearly 16 hours but refused to answer questions about his motive.


Police, meanwhile, were investigating how a single hijacker was able to hold the plane's 364 passengers and crew members docile for so long with only a weapon resembling an ice pick.


In the first storming of a hijacked plane in Japan's history, police overpowered the suspect, identified as Fumio Kutsumi, at dawn Thursday and freed the All Nippon Airways jet's passengers and crew.


One 24-year-old passenger suffered a small stab wound in her left shoulder and six others were treated for stress-related ailments.


Kutsumi, whose head was bloodied by police in a scuffle after they stormed the plane at the airport in the northern city of Hakodate, later told police repeatedly that he was sorry and regretted what he had done.


Kutsumi, a bank systems-engineering manager who apparently had once been on a fast-track career, has been on medical leave from his job since last year because of a "nervous imbalance,'' asthma and a liver ailment, the bank says.


The bank's president, in typical Japanese form, apologized for any trouble Kutsumi had caused.


Neighbors described Kutsumi as a serious, normal-appearing "salary man'' with a wife and two children.


The airline said its crew reported during the takeover that the hijacker was an apparent member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, accused in the March 20 Tokyo subway nerve gas attack, and that he had demanded the release of jailed cult leader Shoko Asahara.


But police said Thursday they had not been able to confirm whether or not there was a connection with the cult. The sect denied any involvement.


Once the hijacker began negotiating with police, he made no reference to Asahara, but repeated a demand that the plane be flown back to Tokyo.


Critics were asking how someone could have carried an ice pick-like weapon through Japan's tough airport security checks, and how the hijacker was able to terrorize the passengers and crew for 16 hours before being overpowered by police.


Even with careful X-ray checks, airport officials said, it would be relatively easy to conceal something the size and shape of the weapon's detachable spike. Nevertheless, Japan's Transportation Ministry urged airlines to tighten baggage checks.


After threatening a flight attendant, the hijacker ordered the flight crew to place gum tape over the eyes and mouths of all the passengers and claimed to have accomplices and a plastic explosive aboard.


Many passengers later loosened the tape so they could see out of the bottom edge, but the vision restriction heightened their fears and made it difficult to monitor the hijacker -- who became increasingly agitated as police refused his demands.


"We knew there was at least one hijacker, but we weren't sure for a while whether there were others,'' a passenger told the NHK broadcasting network.


"A blindfold is enough to make people feel very uneasy,'' another said.


The hijacker threatened to kill passengers who moved or didn't follow his orders. Passengers who listened to radio news accounts of the hijacking over the plane's earphone system said they also feared the hijacker might release a poisonous gas if he were in fact a member of Aum Shinri Kyo.


But some Japanese attributed the passivity of those on board to the country's inexperience with danger.


"Things are so safe here, Japanese don't develop much of an instinct for survival,'' said Takashi Ohta, a 47-year-old cab driver who has been driving the night shift in Tokyo for 10 years.


"If someone tells them their life is in danger, they just believe it and do what they're told. They don't know how else to handle themselves.''


Eleven foreigners were aboard the plane, including three Finns, two Americans, two Indonesians, an Australian, a Canadian, and a Dane. The nationality of the other was not immediately available.