Japanese man executed for killing seven in Tokyo truck and stabbing rampage

A Japanese man who killed seven people in a lorry crash and stabbing rampage in Tokyo in 2008 has been executed. Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa told reporters that Tomohiro Kato was hanged at the Tokyo detention centre earlier on Tuesday. Japan has maintained the death penalty despite growing international criticism.

Mr Furukawa said capital punishment was a justified response to heinous and violent crime and scrapping it was not appropriate at this point. He said Kato had thoroughly prepared to commit the mass killings -- "an atrocious act that led to extremely serious consequences and had a major impact on society". In the attack, Kato drove his truck down a street in the Akihabara shopping area, slamming into a crowd of people and killing three pedestrians in June 2008.

Japan ExecutionYoshihisa Furukawa speaks about the execution at a press conference in Tokyo (Kyodo News via AP)

He then got out of the vehicle and stabbed four people to death.

He injured or wounded 10 others. Surveillance footage aired by national broadcaster NHK afterwards showed Kato buying hunting knives two days before the attack, laughing with a store worker and at times making stabbing motions with his hands. Media reports also said he had posted on internet message boards several warnings that he was planning to kill people in a mass attack.

Kato, 39, was sentenced to death in 2011 by the Tokyo District Court and the Supreme Court rejected his appeal in 2015. Mr Furukawa denied Tuesday's hanging was related to the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier this month, which shocked the nation known for strict gun controls and low crime rates. Tuesday's hanging was the second under the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office in October.

Japan now has 107 people on death row, including 61 seeking retrials, Mr Furukawa said. Japan and the US are the only two countries in the Group of Seven advanced nations that retain capital punishment. A survey by the Japanese government showed an overwhelming majority of the public supports executions.

Executions are carried out in high secrecy in Japan, where prisoners are not informed of their fate until the morning they are hanged. Since 2007, Japan has begun disclosing the names of those executed and some details of their crimes but disclosures are still limited. Three prisoners were hanged in 2021.

In 2018, Japan hanged 15 people, including the guru of the Aum Shinrikyo cult and 12 former followers convicted in the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 13 people and made thousands ill.