The man who shot and killed former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today had an arsenal of home-made pistols and explosives stored at his home, police have revealed. Mr Abe, 67 and Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, was shot around 11.30am in the city of Nara as he gave a campaign speech ahead of elections on Sunday. He was rushed to hospital with wounds to his heart and neck, and died from massive blood loss shortly after 5pm. Gunman Tetsuya Yamagami (pictured being tackled by Abe’s security), 41, shot Abe twice with a home-made shotgun made out of two pieces of pipe attached to a wooden board, with a grip and electronic firing mechanism fitted underneath. It is not clear what kind of ammunition or gunpowder he used.
But detectives raiding his home say they have found several ‘possible explosives’ and taken them away to be disposed of. Yamagami has also told police that he manufactured multiple handguns, which are otherwise illegal to own in Japan. It is not known how exactly Yamagami learned to make the weapons or explosives, but he is a veteran of the country’s defense forces – having served in the navy between 2002 and 2005. He has admitted to the shooting, telling police he wanted to kill Abe because he was ‘frustrated’ with the former leader – though insists the grudge was not related to his politics.
Mr Abe was a towering figure in Japanese politics: He served two terms from 2006 to 2007, and then again from 2012 until poor health forced him to resign in 2020. He remained hugely influential within the Liberal Democratic Party even after office, and was in Nara to support the local candidate ahead of Sunday’s ballot. He is pictured before being shot on July 8th.
Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (pictured) called the shooting an attack on ‘the foundation of democracy’, describing it as ‘heinous’, ‘barbaric and malicious’, and ‘absolutely unforgivable’. ‘I would like to use the most extreme words available to condemn this act,’ he added.
Video taken shortly before the shooting (pictured) shows Abe arriving at the scene and greeting people before Yamagami steps out from behind a banner. He walks behind the politician as he starts speaking before pulling the weapon from his bag and firing the first shot. It appears to miss Abe, who turns to look before the second fatal shot is fired.
Abe’s towering legacy will stand as perhaps the most significant of Japan’s post-war leaders – a hawkish conservative and economic reformer who dragged the country out of decades of stagnant economic growth and made it a power player on the world stage. Born into a political dynasty, Abe’s grandfather and great uncle had both served as prime minister before him and he was groomed for power from the start. Pictured: Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi (second from left) holds hands with a young Shinzo Abe (far left) while walking with wife Ryoko (third from left), son-in-law and lawmaker Sintaro Abe (far right) his wife Yoko (second from right) and son Hironobu on July 7, 1957.
He first became premiere in 2006 at the age of 52 – the youngest ever to hold the job – but was mired in scandal and abruptly stepped down after just a year while suffering debilitating bowel condition ulcerative colitis. He regained the premiership in 2012 and held the role for the next eight years – making him Japan’s longest-serving prime minister – before he was forced to step down again in 2020 when the bowel condition reemerged. Pictured: Artists carry a painting of late Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Abe is best-known for his ‘Abenomics’ agenda to revive Japan’s sluggish economy via a program of vast government spending, massive monetary easing, and cutting red tape. But he also pushed for reforms of Japan’s pacifist post-war constitution to allow the country to develop a fully-fledged military, and deepened ties with western allies – particularly with the US.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson led tributes to Abe as news of his death spread on Friday, saying: ‘His global leadership through unchartered times will be remembered by many. ‘My thoughts are with his family, friends, and the Japanese people. The UK stands with you at this dark and sad time.’
The attack came just before noon in the country’s western region of Nara where Abe had been delivering a stump speech with security present, but spectators able to approach him easily. Footage broadcast by NHK (pictured) showed him standing on a stage when a man dressed in a grey shirt and brown trousers begins approaching from behind, before drawing something from a bag and firing. At least two shots appear to be fired, each producing a cloud of smoke.
As spectators and reporters ducked, a man was shown being tackled to the ground by security. He was later arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, reports said. Local media identified the man as 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, citing police sources, with several media outlets describing him as a former member of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, the country’s navy. He was wielding a weapon described by local media as a ‘handmade gun’, and NHK said he told police after his arrest that he ‘targeted Abe with the intention of killing him’.
Witnesses at the scene described shock as the political event turned into chaos. ‘The first shot sounded like a toy bazooka,’ a woman told NHK. ‘He didn’t fall and there was a large bang. The second shot was more visible, you could see the spark and smoke,’ she added. ‘After the second shot, people surrounded him and gave him cardiac massage.’ Abe was bleeding from the neck, witnesses said and photographs showed. He was reportedly initially responsive but subsequently lost consciousness.
Officials from the local chapter of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party said there had been no threats before the incident and that his speech had been announced publicly. Kishida said ‘no decision’ had been made on the election, though several parties announced their senior members would halt campaigning in the wake of the attack. The attack prompted international shock.
‘This is a very, very sad moment,’ US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters at a G20 meeting in Bali, saying the United States was ‘deeply saddened and deeply concerned’. Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha was ‘very shocked’ at Abe’s shooting, while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was ‘deeply distressed’ by the news. Abe was a hawkish conservative who pushed for the revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution to recognize the country’s military and has stayed a prominent political figure even after his resignation.
Japan has some of the world’s toughest gun-control laws, and annual deaths from firearms in the country of 125 million people are regularly in single figures. Getting a gun license is a long and complicated process for Japanese citizens, who must first get a recommendation from a shooting association and then undergo strict police checks. Japan has seen ‘nothing like this for well over 50 to 60 years’, Corey Wallace, an assistant professor at Kanagawa University who focuses on Japanese politics, told AFP. Pictured: Akie Abe (C), wife of former Japanese prime minster Shinzo Abe, arrives at Nara Medical University Hospital.
He said the last similar incident was likely the 1960 assassination of Inejiro Asanuma, the leader of the Japan Socialist Party, who was stabbed by a right-wing youth. ‘But two days before an election, of a (man) who is so prominent… it’s really profoundly sad and shocking.’ He noted, too, that Japanese politicians and voters are used to a personal and close-up style of campaigning. Pictured: Kimihiko Kichikawa (L), the head of the university hospital holds a press conference.
Abe stepped down as prime minister in 2020 because he said a chronic health problem has resurfaced. Abe has had ulcerative colitis since he was a teenager and has said the condition was controlled with treatment. He told reporters at the time that it was ‘gut wrenching’ to leave many of his goals unfinished. He spoke of his failure to resolve the issue of Japanese abducted years ago by North Korea, a territorial dispute with Russia and a revision of Japan´s war-renouncing constitution.
That last goal was a big reason he was such a divisive figure. His ultra-nationalism riled the Koreas and China, and his push to normalize Japan’s defense posture angered many Japanese. Abe failed to achieve his cherished goal of formally rewriting the U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution because of poor public support. Supporters of Abe said that his legacy was a stronger U.S.-Japan relationship that was meant to bolster Japan’s defense capability. But Abe made enemies too by forcing his defense goals and other contentious issues through parliament, despite strong public opposition.
Abe is a political blue blood who was groomed to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi (picture with Shinzo Abe and Hironobu Abe in the 1960s). His political rhetoric often focused on making Japan a ‘normal’ and ‘beautiful’ nation with a stronger military and bigger role in international affairs. U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel expressed sadness and shock at the shooting. ‘Abe-san has been an outstanding leader of Japan and unwavering ally of the U.S. The U.S. Government and American people are praying for the well-being of Abe-san, his family, & people of Japan,’ he said on Twitter.
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