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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

3 Die in Japanese Hostage-Taking

NAGOYA, Japan -- Three people were killed and 34 injured in an explosion after a man, wielding a knife and crossbow and demanding back pay, took hostages in an office in the Japanese city of Nagoya on Tuesday and set the area alight.

Thirty-four people were injured in the blast, which blew out a row of windows and started a fire that burned for more than an hour in a violent climax to a three-hour standoff televised by national media.

Glass shards showered the street, papers were scattered into the air and black smoke billowed from the fourth floor of the building, occupied by a parcel delivery company. Witnesses described bystanders screaming and trying to shield their faces with newspapers.

Public broadcaster NHK said the three dead were the hostage-taker, the manager of the office and a police officer.

Among the injured were police officers and firefighters who were called to the scene after the drama began Tuesday morning, said Yasunobu Iwasaki, an official with the Nagoya Fire Department.

"I ran away as soon as I heard the blast, but I still got hit by pieces of glass," an injured woman told private broadcaster TV Asahi. "It was flying everywhere."

Media reports said 52-year-old Noboru Beppu, thought to be a contract driver with the firm, had stormed into the office about three hours before the blast, doused the area with a liquid and threatened to set the building on fire if he was not paid three months' wages of about 250,000 yen ($2,129).

He then used a sofa and desks to barricade himself in the office along with eight hostages, all but one of whom were released before the explosion.

The hostage taker kept with him only the 41-year-old manager of the office, who was later confirmed dead. It was unclear if the police officer killed was inside the office when the explosion happened Tuesday at about 1:10 p.m. local time.

A 26-year-old man suffered a minor stab wound when he grappled with the hostage-taker after he stormed into the office, said Makoto Furuta, a prefectural police spokesman. He was released shortly afterward with 22 women working there, leaving Beppu with eight hostages for most of the standoff.

When the man set off the explosion by setting fire to the liquid, firefighters, police and television crews were already on the scene.

It took about two hours to put out the resulting blaze.

Although Japanese crime rates remain low by international standards, financial stress brought on by a weak economy over the last dozen or so years has been blamed for an increase in crime and a rise to near-record suicide rates.

Disputes over money seem to have been the trigger for two hostage-taking incidents in Japan last December, one at a building contractor's office and another at a bank.

A former taxi driver was sentenced to death this year for setting fire to the office of a consumer credit firm and killing five staff during an attempted robbery in 2001.

(Reuters, AP)