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60 Tear Gassed on Japanese Train

December 18, 1997

TOKYO (AP) _ At least 60 passengers on a packed commuter train were taken to hospitals with eye and throat pain Thursday morning after a group of alleged pickpockets sprayed tear gas to escape from undercover police, police said.

The five pickpockets, some of whom wielded knives, escaped, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department said.

None of the injuries were serious, but passengers panicked as the scene quickly reminded them of the nightmare 1995 gassing on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinri Kyo doomsday cult, in which 12 died and thousands were sickened.

Two plain-clothes investigators happened to be in the train car where the incident took place as part of daily anti-pickpocket surveillance, a police spokesman said.

When they rushed to the other end of the car after hearing a commotion, one of the alleged thieves sprayed tear gas while the group ran away after the train entered Ikebukuro Station, the spokesman said, on condition of anonymity.

One of the policeman, who was hit directly in the face by the spray, was among those taken to a nearby hospital, he said.

``I heard someone yelling, then there was some struggle,″ passenger Shinya Morisaki was quoted by TBS television news as saying. ``A moment later I smelled a stinking fume spreading inside the subway car.″

Gangs of pickpockets, many believed to be South Korean, have been active in recent years on train lines in the same area of north-central Tokyo.

Update hourly