TOKYO — A manhunt that riveted Japan ended Friday when police captured a Chinese convict who bolted from a Hiroshima penitentiary clad only in his underwear in the country's first prison break in more than two decades.
Police found Li Guolin, who was serving a 23-year sentence for attempted murder, near an elementary school in the southern Japan city on Friday.
Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, broke into programming to show police taking him into custody. He wore a heavy jacket and ski cap pulled down over his face. NHK said he had a knife when he was arrested.
Li is suspected of breaking into a apartment to steal clothes after he jumped the prison walls on Wednesday. According to the Japanese media, he also stole a beer while he was there — police reportedly found his DNA on a can he left behind.
Hiroshima police confirmed his arrest, but had no further comment. Officials said it was the first prison break from a Japanese penitentiary since 1989.
The government's top spokesman apologized for the escape and vowed tougher measures to keep inmates from breaking out. Li managed to climb over a wall inside the prison campus and then use scaffolding to get over the 16-foot (5-meter) outer wall, which was under construction for repairs. Sensors on the wall were turned off because of the repair work.
"We apologize for causing serious safety concerns to the neighbors," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said. "We'll make sure that prisons and related institutions take steps so that they will never repeat the same mistake."
Li, believed to be the leader of a gang of burglars, was convicted in 2005 for shooting at a police officer and stealing a squad car.
Nearly 800 officers had been assigned to the hunt for Li, who had been jailed for shooting at an officer and stealing a squad car in 2005.
The escape was the first ever from the Hiroshima prison. A corrections official with the Justice Ministry said the last escape by an inmate from within a Japanese prison was in 1989.
Li escaped by ducking out of an outdoor exercise session.
Li was sent to the Hiroshima prison in 2008.