- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

TOKYO — A man demanding about $2,300 in unpaid wages set off a fiery explosion yesterday in an office building in central Japan, killing himself, a police officer and one of his eight hostages.

A three-hour standoff, carried live on national television, came to a violent end when the blast ripped through the building in the city of Nagoya, blowing out a row of windows and igniting a blaze that burned for more than an hour.

Seven hostages were freed just 10 minutes before the blast, which wounded at least 41 persons, including five with serious burns or internal injuries.

It was not immediately clear how the man, identified as Noboru Beppu, 52, set off the explosion inside the fourth-floor office of a parcel-delivery company.

Beppu had rolled in a cart loaded with two canisters of an unidentified liquid, half of which he later poured on the floor, said Nobuyuki Onizuka, a police spokesman. People said they smelled gasoline as they fled the building.

“The blinds were sucked in and then the entire floor just turned red,” said Koji Hirano, a banker who was walking by. “Glass was raining down everywhere.”

Witnesses said the drama began when Beppu burst into the office armed with a knife.

Police said he had demanded three months worth of unpaid wages from the company, Keikyubin.

According to media reports, Beppu drove his own truck making deliveries for Keikyubin under a subcontracting agreement, though it wasn’t clear when the arrangement began.

Company officials told Beppu yesterday they had already transferred the estimated $2,300 to his bank account, the reports said.

A 26-year-old man grappled with Beppu but fled after he received a minor stab wound. About 22 female workers also ran out, leaving Beppu with eight hostages.

Police were kept at bay after Beppu threatened to touch off an explosion if they tried to come inside, reports said. After releasing all but a 41-year-old office manager, he carried out his threat.

Glass shards showered the street and papers were scattered into the air. Witnesses described bystanders screaming and trying to shield their faces with newspapers.

Firefighters pumped water into the burning building but took nearly an hour and a half to bring the flames under control.

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