Assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe | Pro Club Bd

Illustration of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

murder of
Shinzo Abe

Using video images and expert analysis, Reuters traces apparent gaps in Abe’s security and investigates the possible motive for a murder that shocked a nation accustomed to gun crime.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving leader in modern Japan, was fatally shot at close range during a campaign rally on July 8, two days before a general election.

When Abe, 67, was shot dead, he was standing at an intersection outside a train station in the western city of Nara, speaking to a crowd as cars and vans drove past behind his exposed back on the street where the attacker appeared. Police arrested a suspect at the scene, whom they have identified as Tetsuya Yamagami. Reuters could not reach Yamagami, who remains in police custody, for comment and was unable to determine if he had a lawyer.

Illustrated reconstruction of the scene where Shinzo Abe was shot. Abe stood on a podium in the intersection, surrounded by guardrails and decorated with party banners. There were four bodyguards inside the guard rails, Abe and more outside.

Four bodyguards were inside the guard rails with Abe and more outside, according to Koichi Ito, a former sergeant with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s special attack team and now a national security adviser, who analyzed footage of Abe’s speech and the shooting.

Abe’s bodyguards failed to protect him in the seconds after a gunman’s first shot appeared to have missed, one of a series of critical security mistakes on the day the former Japanese premier was killed, according to eight experts viewing the footage analyzed.

His bodyguards could have saved him if they shielded him or removed him from the line of fire in the 2.5 seconds between shots, the experts said. Some of them also said they could have spotted the attacker sooner.

“If Abe had been properly protected, it could have been avoided,” said Koichi Ito, a former sergeant with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s special attack team and now a national security adviser who analyzed footage of Abe’s speech and the shooting.

“There was a loud bang and then smoke,” businessman Makoto Ichikawa, who was at the scene, told Reuters. “The first shot nobody knew what was going on,” he said. After the second shot, the attacker was attacked by some kind of security police, he said.

Chronicle of events from the shooting of Abe to the declaration of his death.

Around 11:30 a.m. (Japan Standard Time)

Abe is shot at a campaign speech in Nara. Two shots were heard. Police detain a suspect at the scene of the attack and arrest him.

11:32 a.m

Emergency services are dispatched to the site.

11:36 a.m

A helicopter is requested to transport Abe to the hospital.

11:57 a.m

Japanese media reports that Abe is there cardiac arrest.

12:09 p.m

Abe is loaded into the helicopter.

12:13 p.m

Helicopter carrying Abe takes off, according to fire department log.

12:20 p.m. (50 minutes after shooting)

Abe arrives at Nara Medical University Hospital by helicopter.

5:03 p.m. (5.5 hours after shooting)

Abe is pronounced deadwho had bled to death from deep wounds in his heart and down the front of his neck.

The Kyodo News Agency released a photo of Abe lying face up on the road by a guardrail, blood on his white shirt. People crowded around him, one gave him a cardiac massage.

The assassination shocked a nation where guns are tightly controlled and political violence is exceedingly rare.

An annotated map of the city of Nara in western Japan. He delivered Abe’s speech at the Yamato-Saidaiji train station – it is common for Japanese politicians to campaign in public places such as in front of train stations. He was flown by plane to Nara Medical University Hospital, more than 20 km from the station. The helicopter flight lasted about 7 minutes.

Homemade Weapon

Video footage showed the attacker shooting Abe from behind with a homemade device that had a pistol grip and what appeared to be two barrels covered with black electrical tape. The weapon measured 40 by 20 centimeters (16 by 8 inches) and was made of materials including metal and wood, Nara Prefectural Police officials told reporters.

Annotated illustration of the homemade weapon. The weapon’s barrel consisted of two metal tubes with metal caps on the butt ends, which acted as a cannon and were mounted on a wooden plank as a base. It had a plastic trigger, possibly in two pieces, and the butt of the gun was reinforced with tape. The weapon also included batteries and cables and was held together with straps and tape.

Japanese media said the suspect told investigators he searched online for instructions on how to make firearms and also ordered parts and gunpowder online.

Japanese media also said that up to six projectiles could be fired at once when the gun’s trigger is pulled.

Nara Prefectural Police have not released details about the ammunition used in the attack. A spokesman told Reuters police are investigating the possibility that multiple bullet-like objects were fired in a single shot. The spokesman declined to comment on the details of the projectiles or how the suspect acquired them.

Three experts, including two weapons specialists, said the weapon could have been made in a day or two once one person had the materials.

“Anyone with a basic understanding of how guns work could have done it with minimal knowledge,” said firearms commentator Tetsuya Tsuda.

The suspect

A person named Tetsuya Yamagami – the same name as the suspect – served in the Maritime Self-Defense Force from 2002 to 2005, a Japanese Navy spokesman said, declining to say if this was the alleged killer, local media reported.

“During their service, members of the Self-Defense Forces train with live ammunition once a year. They also do breakdowns and maintenance on weapons,” a senior naval officer told Reuters.

“But since they follow orders when they do, it’s hard to believe that they’re gaining enough knowledge to be able to make weapons,” he said.

The shooter blamed the Unification Church for his mother’s financial woes and fueled a grudge against Abe, which he associated with the church, media said.

The police only said that Yamagami was angry with “an organization”. The church has said that Yamagami’s mother, who has not been publicly identified, is a church member.

Abe, not a member of the Unification Church, appeared at an event hosted by an organization affiliated with the group last year.

photo grid

Photos from Abe’s funeral in Tokyo (top), mourners signing books of condolence at the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand (bottom left), and a memorial wall in front of the de facto Japanese Embassy in Taipei, Taiwan (bottom right). REUTERS/Issei Kato, Athit Perawongmetha and Ann Wang

Gun control in Japan

Japan has very strict gun control laws. Restrictions do not allow private individuals to own handguns, and licensed hunters are only allowed to own rifles. Gun owners must attend classes, pass a written test, and undergo a mental health assessment and background check.

Gun crime is very rare in Japan. In 2021, according to police data, there were 10 shootings, eight of them involving gangsters. One person was killed and four injured.

Abe’s assassination was the first of a sitting or former prime minister of Japan since the 1930s, during the days of pre-war Japanese militarism.

However, the attack on Abe showed that even in a country with strict gun laws, gun violence cannot be eliminated.

In recent years, there have been a few cases of people illegally making guns in Japan. In 2018, police arrested a 23-year-old man in the western city of Himeji for making a gun and more than 130 bullets at home. Also that year, police arrested a 19-year-old university student in the city of Nagoya for using a 3D printer to create explosives and a gun.

Additional reporting by

Timothy Kelly, Nobuhiro Kubo, Satoshi Sugiyama, Daniel Leussink, Ju-min Park, Sam Nussey and David Dolan

Cover photo of

Anurag Rao


Reuters reporting; Japanese media;; Maps4News

Edited by

Anand Katakam and William Mallard

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