TOKYO — The assassination of former Japanese leader Shinzo Abe at a political rally on Friday rocked a country where strict firearms laws mean gun violence is almost unheard of, as a procession of mourners laid flowers, tea and sake near the site of the shooting to honor the country’s longest-serving prime minister.
Investigation began into the gunman’s motives and security measures that were in place for Abe, who was attacked while stumping for a fellow member of the center-right Liberal Democratic Party in Nara, near Osaka. The suspect, 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.
The campaign for Japan’s upper house resumed Saturday, with candidates and surrogates — including incumbent Prime Minister Fumio Kishida — returning to the trail ahead of Sunday’s election. Abe’s ruling LDP, which has dominated Japanese politics since its founding in 1955, is expected to be victorious. If the LDP maintains or expands its control of the upper house, it would clear the path for Kishida, elected in October, to enact some of his most ambitious policy proposals.
Akie Abe, the slain leader’s wife, headed back to Tokyo from Nara on Saturday morning, and Abe’s body was transported back in a hearse. No details have been released about funeral arrangements. Security around his home in Tokyo had tightened overnight, with more police officers on-site.
There is little known about the shooter and his motivations. 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.
Yamagami was arrested on-site and admitted to shooting Abe with a homemade gun, officials said. He told investigators that his mother had become bankrupt after spending her money to support a religious group, according to Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, citing police sources. Yamagami said he found out about Abe’s visit online and headed to the site by subway on Friday, Mainichi reported.
Police have declined to identify the group, citing the ongoing investigation.
Japan’s National Police Agency has launched a probe into the security protocols that were in place for Abe, one of the country’s most recognizable political figures.
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 night before the event.
Kishida spoke on the phone with President Biden Saturday morning. After the shooting, Biden visited the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Washington and sign the 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, 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 the gunman had 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.