Shinzo Abe assassination: Japan investigates gunman’s motives, security

TOKYO – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida returned to the campaign trail Saturday with heightened security after former leader Shinzo Abe’s assassination, as mourners laid flowers, tea and sake near Friday’s site shooting to honor the country’s longest-serving premier.

Abe’s assassination at a campaign event in Nara, near Osaka, has raised questions among politicians and the public about security measures at political events. Abe was rallying support for a candidate in Sunday’s upper house elections on an open street, when a gunman went behind him and fired two shots.

Now, law enforcement is investigating whether adequate security protocols were in place ahead of the event. They are also probing the suspect’s motives, and details of the homemade weapon he used.

The apparent gunman, a 41-year-old unemployed man from Nara named Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he believed Abe was linked to a group he hated, police said. Police have declined to identify the group, citing the ongoing investigation. They have not given an official briefing since Friday.

On Saturday, a long line of mourners paid their respects at the site of the shooting in Nara. Abe’s body was returned to Tokyo in a hearse, and Kishida visited his predecessor’s home to offer his condolences. Other leaders from their conservative Liberal Democratic Party stood outside Abe’s residence to greet and bow as his body arrived.

Shinzo Abe, long-serving Japanese leader, slain at 67

The Abe family will hold a wake on Monday and a funeral on Tuesday. Plans for a potential state funeral have not been released.

Yamagami was a Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force member for three years in his early 20s. Police found multiple homemade guns in his home Friday. He was arrested on-site and police say he admitted to the killing, which he said was not politically motivated.

He told investigators that his mother had become bankrupt after spending her money to support a religious group, according to Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, which cited police sources. He said his family fell apart because of his mother’s obsession with the group, and he targeted Abe “out of resentment,” Mainichi reported.

Yamagami had followed Abe to his previous speeches, and was in the western city of Okayama, where Abe was campaigning on Thursday night, according to the Kyodo News agency. Police are investigating whether Yamagami followed Abe with the intent of finding the right time to kill him.

Assassinations that stunned the world

In Japan, campaign events have minimal visible security. Attacks on politicians are rare in postwar Japan, which has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world and almost no gun violence.

But on Saturday, hundreds of attendees at Kishida’s outdoor event in Yamanashi, west of Tokyo, went through bag checks and metal detectors. Kishida spoke on a stage mounted on a van, surrounded by police and distanced from the crowd, ahead of Sunday’s election.

On Saturday, supporters of opposition parties urged voters to separate their grief from their ballot. They are concerned about a potential rally-around-the-flag effect that would motivate a sympathy vote for the LDP, or increase the turnout of the conservative party’s supporters. One of the trending terms on Twitter in Japan was “a vote is not a funeral offering.”

Japanese media struggled to balance covering the assassination while not advantaging Abe’s ruling party in the final stretch of the campaign. One television outlet blurred out the faces of LDP candidates, but on another channel, anchors wore black clothes and focused heavily on Abe’s legacy.

The LDP, which has dominated Japanese politics since its founding in 1955, is expected to be victorious. If the party maintains or expands its control of the House of Councilors, it would clear the path for Kishida, elected in October, to enact some of his most ambitious policy proposals.

Kishida has introduced a vague economic overhaul plan and is considering increases in defense spending, a controversial issue in a country with a pacifist constitution that Abe had long tried to amend.

Security around Abe’s home in Tokyo had tightened overnight, with more police officers on-site. Abe, one of the most recognizable and divisive politicians in Japan, has long freely walked his dog and taken selfies with passersby with no visible protection.

Japan’s National Police Agency has launched a probe into the security protocols that were in place for Abe.

Abe was guarded by a team from Nara’s police department and officers from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, according to Japanese news outlet Jiji Press. Nara police said Friday night that they had scrambled to get security in place because they were only notified of Abe’s presence the evening before the event.

What are Japan’s gun laws? Abe killing shocks nation where shootings are rare.

Kishida spoke on the phone with President Biden Saturday morning. After the shooting, Biden visited the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Washington and signed a condolence book.

“On behalf of the Biden family and all of America we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the Abe family and the people of Japan,” Biden wrote. “It is not only a loss to his wife and family – and the people of Japan, but a loss to the world. A man of peace and judgment – he will be missed. ”

Abe, who was 67, remained a power broker in his party even after leaving office. He was a towering figure at home and abroad who hailed from a prominent political family. He served a brief first stint as premier in 2006, making him the youngest person to become prime minister of postwar Japan.

He died Friday of blood loss less than five hours after being shot in the neck and chest. The assassin fired twice, and the second shot caused both wounds, police said – raising questions of what type of gun and ammunition had been used.

The shooting reverberated throughout the country, which has low crime rates and some of the world’s most restrictive gun laws. Firearms are scarce, as are fatal shootings, of which there was exactly one in all of 2021.

Last year, eight of the 10 shootings in Japan were related to the yakuza, according to the National Police Agency, resulting in one death and four injuries.

Leave a Comment