Rare Shooting and Stabbing Attack in Japan Leaves Three Dead, Injures One

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Gun violence is extremely rare in Japan, which has one of the lowest rates of gun crimes in the world due to its extremely strict gun control laws.

A rare shooting and stabbing attack in a city in rural Japan on Thursday has left three people dead, including two police officers, and injured one person, police and media reported.

Few details were immediately available about the incident, in which police received a call in the late afternoon with reports that a man dressed in camouflage stabbed a woman with a knife and fired what appeared to be a hunting rifle in the city of Nakano in Nagano prefecture, central Japan, NHK national television reported.

Four people, including the woman, were struck by the attacker, who fled the scene of the incident and barricaded himself inside a building. The woman was taken to hospital where she was subsequently pronounced dead.

NHK added that two police officers also died from their injuries and that one other person was injured. The injured person is still believed to be lying near the scene of the incident, the public broadcaster said.

The attacker, who was wearing a camouflage hat, top and bottoms with sunglasses and a mask, is believed to be barricaded in the house of the city council president and multiple gunshots were heard near the site, Kyodo news agency reported.

Nakano City advised citizens to stay indoors in a statement posted on social media Thursday. 

The Nakano city police spokesman told media that authorities designated an "evacuation zone" with a radius of 300 metres around the incident scene.

The police spokesman added that its forces are investigating reports that a gunshot-like sound was heard near the scene hours after the attack.

Crimes involving guns are extremely rare in Japan, a country of 125 million people where gun ownership is tightly regulated and anyone seeking to own a gun must go through a rigorous process before a licence is granted.

However, Japan was rocked by the fatal shooting of Shinzo Abe, the country's longest-serving prime minister who was assassinated during a campaign speech in Nara last July.

His murder shocked Japan and the international community and also sparked questions about whether enough security was in place to protect him despite the country's track record for being a safe place.