Mysterious poisonous fumes overwhelmed thousands of rush-hour subway commuters this morning in Tokyo.
The fumes killed at least six people, sickened thousands and paralyzed the city's transportation system. At least 16 people were unconscious and in critical condition.
A government spokesman, Kozo Igarashi, called the poisonings a "random mass attack," and Japan's Kyodo News Service said police were treating the case as a murder investigation.
Two main subway lines were shut down and 26 stations were closed, said Yasuo Nishijima, a subway spokesman.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Fire Department said the first report came from Tsukiji station in central Tokyo shortly after 8 a.m. (5 p.m. Sunday, St. Louis time). Passengers reported that a man in his 40s placed a lunch box wrapped in newspaper on an overhead rack inside a subway car and then got off. Shortly afterward, passengers began coughing and complaining of headaches, blurred vision and nausea.
A station employee, Shinichi Sato, 44, said co-worker Kazumasa Takahashi, 50, went into one of the train cars at Kasumigaseki as people were fleeing.
Takahashi removed a plastic bag with some of the poison in it and carried it to the station office. He died soon after, Sato said.
Kyodo News Service reported that a bottle wrapped in newspaper also had been found inside a subway car, raising suspicions that the perpetrator left gas bombs in several places.
"The smell of the gas was very strong," said Yoshio Kakurai, the station chief at Tsukiji. He described the odor as acidic.
Kakurai said that when the affected train pulled in, "the people all came bursting out." Some immediately collapsed on the platform, and others staggered out to the street.
At a string of stations along Tokyo's Hibiya subway line, rescue workers hauled passengers out into ambulances. Crews wearing gas masks and …