KAWASAKI, JAPAN (AFP) – Two people, including a child, were feared dead Tuesday in a mass stabbing attack that also injured 17 people in Japan, emergency services said.

The rampage was a rare attack in a country with one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the developed world and there was no immediate detail on the motive of the knifeman.

The attack occurred during the busy early morning commute as workers headed to their offices and children to school in Kawasaki, a city south of Tokyo.

“One man and one female child are showing no vital signs,” said fire department official Yuji Sekizawa, employing a phrase commonly used in Japan to mean the victims have died but the death has not yet been certified by an official medical professional.

The fire department said 17 others were injured in the attack, among them several children.

“A man stabbed them,” another spokesman for the department, Dai Nagase, earlier told AFP.

“We received an emergency call at 7:44 am, which said four elementary schoolchildren were stabbed.”

Footage broadcast on local TV stations showed multiple police cars, ambulances and fire engines at the scene. Emergency medical tents were put up to treat the wounded.

Police said one suspect, a man, had been detained. Local media said he had stabbed himself, suffering a serious wound.

“I saw a man holding a knife… I couldn’t see clearly, but he apparently stabbed himself in the neck,” one eyewitness told NHK.

The broadcaster said two knives were spotted at the scene, but there was no immediate confirmation from officials.

‘Scary to see’

How the attack unfolded was not immediately clear, with some initial reports saying it occurred in a park, but subsequent accounts describing it as taking place at a nearby bus stop.

“I heard the sound of lots of ambulances and I saw a man lying near a bus stop bleeding,” a male eyewitness, who was not identified, told NHK.

“There is another bus stop near the elementary school and I also saw elementary schoolchildren lying on the ground… It’s a quiet neighbourhood, it’s scary to see this kind of thing happen,” he added.

“It is a very harrowing incident,” government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters, referring all further questions on the attack to police.

The attack comes as Japan hosts US President Donald Trump on a state visit, which wraps up Tuesday with the US leader visiting an American military base outside of Tokyo.

With such a low crime rate, visitors to Japan are often surprised to see very young children travelling unaccompanied to school.

However, in 2018, a man was arrested in central Japan after stabbing one person to death and injuring two others aboard a bullet train, an attack that prompted new security measures on the famed rail service.

And in 2016, a man stabbed 19 people to death in a disability centre south of Tokyo in what he described as a mission to rid the world of people with mental illness.