TOKYO -- Police in western Japan today searched for the man who burst into a regional office of a Tokyo newspaper and opened fire with a shotgun on its reporters, killing one and seriously wounding another.
Investigators were baffled as to the motive but said the shooting did not appear to be random. The case drew immediate nationwide attention in Japan, where firearms are virtually banned from private ownership and gunshot slayings are rare.
Initial speculation centered on threats received by the slain reporter, Tomohiro Kojiri, last year after he wrote a story critical of tactics used by police against Japan's Korean minority.
The shooting occurred Sunday night at a regional bureau of the Asahi Shimbun, one of the country's leading dailies, in Nishinomiya, outside the city of Kobe about 300 miles southwest of Tokyo.
As Kojiri, 29, and two other reporters sat in the second-floor office, a ski-masked man burst in and opened fire at close range with a shotgun, police said. Kojiri fell mortally wounded and died early today in a hospital.
Hyoe Inukai, 42, was in critical condition with a chest wound after surgery. The third reporter escaped unharmed when the assailant, after firing twice, fled on foot and vanished.
Police mounted a wide manhunt but were hampered by the lack of motive. Investigators said they were checking recent stories filed by the bureau but were not sure if the target was a reporter or the newspaper itself.
But speculation in local media that the shooting was linked to Kojiri's police reporting prompted the Asahi's regional bureau chief, Jiro Oshima, to deny Monday any suspicion that police had retaliated. He said he was 'dumbfounded' as to the reason.
Last November, Kojiri reported that Hyogo Prefecture (state) police forced a Korean resident to comply with an unpopular fingerprinting law by clamping his arms into a brace and forcibly printing him.
All non-Japanese are to be fingerprinted periodically under the country's alien registration law -- including the 670,000 Korean residents, many of whom have lived all their lives in Japan. Many Koreans refuse to be fingerprinted and are leading protests against the law as discriminatory.
The disclosure drew wide criticism of police tactics and fresh attention to the Koreans' plight, but also prompted telephoned threats to the Asahi bureau, some naming Kojiri, newspaper officials said.
Members of the Japan Congress of Journalists issued a statement condemning the shooting as a threat to a free press.
Most shootings in Japan begin as squabbles among organized crime members called 'yakuza,' who smuggle guns from abroad. The Kobe area is a hotbed of yakuza activity but there was no immediate gang link to the reporter's death.
The last reported attack on a newspaper office was in 1972 in Osaka, just east of Kobe, when three leaders of Japan's biggest organized crime group, the Yamaguchi-gumi, forced their way into the regional office of the Yomiuri Shimbun, another Tokyo daily.