An employee was killed and seven other people, including children, were wounded by a gunman who opened fire at a sports club in southwestern Japan on Friday night, authorities said.
Police spokesman Tamotsu Honda said that a 26-year-old club employee was shot dead at a Renaissance sports club in the city of Sasebo on the southwestern island of Kyushu. Seven other people – with two girls, ages 9 and 10, were hospitalized, the AP reports.
The shooting is believed to be linked with crime wars. Last month, a reputed organized crime leader was shot to death and his driver fatally stabbed in Fukuoka, just weeks after the brazen fatal shooting of a patient at a hospital who was mistaken for gang member.
Police are searching for a gunman and investigating the possibility of an organized crime connection, Honda said.
Kyodo News agency quoted local police as saying the gunman pushed his way into the club shortly after 7 p.m. (1000 GMT) and immediately began spraying bullets from his gun. He apparently holed up briefly in the sports club before making a getaway, public broadcaster NHK said.
While shootings are still relatively rare in Japan, authorities are concerned about a recent rise in crimes involving guns.
Last month, parliament approved new legislation that stiffens the penalties for gun crimes, particularly those perpetrated by members of organized crime groups.
Due to the country's strict controls on handguns, most shootings here are related to gang violence.
Gun licenses are issued for hunting and sports purposes. Owners must have their weapons inspected by authorities once a year.