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Assassination of Shinzo Abe: Former Prime Minister’s death raises security concerns as Japan mourns

TOKYO — A senior police official on Saturday acknowledged potential security loopholes that allowed an assassin to fire his gun at former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while he was speaking at a campaign rally, raising questions about how the assailant got so close behind him .

Abe was shot dead in the western city of Nara on Friday and flown to a hospital but died of blood loss. Police arrested the attacker, a former member of the Japanese Navy, at the scene. Police confiscated his homemade gun and several others were later found at his home.

The attacker, Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he acted because he believed rumors that Abe was linked to an organization he opposes, police said. Japanese media reported that the man had developed hatred for a religious group that his mother was obsessed with and which was causing financial problems for his family. The reports did not identify the group.

On Saturday, a black hearse carrying Abe’s body and accompanied by his wife Akie arrived at his home in Tokyo’s upmarket Shibuya neighborhood. Many mourners, including senior party officials, awaited his remains and bowed their heads as the vehicle passed.

Nara Prefectural Police Chief Tomoaki Onizuka said Abe’s killing was his “biggest regret” of his 27-year career.

“I can’t deny that there were issues with our security,” Onizuka said. “Whether it was a facility, emergency response, or the skills of individuals, we have yet to find out. Overall there was an issue and we will review it from every perspective.”

The killing of Abe ahead of Sunday’s general election shocked the nation and raised questions about whether security was adequate for the former prime minister.

Some observers watching videos of the attack noted a lack of attention in the open space behind Abe as he spoke.

A former Kyoto Prefectural investigator, Fumikazu Higuchi, said the footage suggested security at the event was sparse and inadequate for a former prime minister.

“It is necessary to investigate why the security forces allowed Yamagami to move freely and walk behind Mr. Abe,” Higuchi told a Nippon TV talk show.

Experts also said Abe was more vulnerable standing on the ground than on a campaign vehicle, which is usually the case but was reportedly unavailable due to his hastily arranged visit to Nara.

“It seems that the police focused mainly on the front while paying little attention to what is behind Mr. Abe and nobody stopped the suspect from approaching him,” said Mitsuru Fukuda, professor for Crisis Management at Nihon University. “There were clearly problems.”

Fukuda said that election campaigns provide a chance for voters and politicians to interact with one another since “political terrorism” was extremely rare in post-war Japan. But killing Abe could prompt tighter security measures at crowded events like campaigns, sports games and others.

During a parliamentary debate in 2015, Abe defied suggestions from an opposition lawmaker to improve its security, insisting that “Japan is a safe country”.

In videos circulating on social media, Yamagami, 41, can be seen standing just yards behind Abe on the other side of a busy street, constantly looking around.

A few minutes after Abe stood on the podium and began his speech – as a local party candidate and their supporters stood up and waved to the crowd – Yamagami can be seen taking his gun from a pocket, walking towards Abe and firing the first shot . which released a cloud of smoke, but the projectile apparently missed Abe.

As Abe turned to see where the sound was coming from, a second shot went off. That bullet apparently hit Abe’s left arm, missing a bulletproof briefcase that was being picked up by a security guard standing behind him.

Abe fell to the ground, his left arm pinned as if to cover his chest. Campaign organizers shouted through loudspeakers asking for medical experts to administer first aid to Abe. His heart and breathing had stopped when he was flown to a hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

Police said Saturday autopsy results showed a bullet that entered Abe’s upper left arm damaged arteries under both collarbones and caused fatal massive bleeding.

According to Asahi newspaper, Yamagami was a contract laborer at a warehouse in Kyoto, operating a forklift. He was described as a quiet person who did not mingle with colleagues. A neighbor at his apartment told Asahi that he had never met Yamagami, although he recalled hearing noises like a saw late at night several times over the past month.

Japan is best known for its strict gun laws. In a population of 125 million, there were only 10 gun-related crimes last year, eight of which were gang-related.

Though out of office, Abe was still very influential in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, leading its largest faction. But his ultranationalist views made him a divisive figure for many.

Abe resigned two years ago, blaming a recurrence of ulcerative colitis, which he had had since he was a teenager. He said he regretted leaving many of his goals unfinished, notably his failure to resolve the issue of the Japanese kidnapped by North Korea years ago, a territorial dispute with Russia and an overhaul of Japan’s war-refusing constitution.

This ultra-nationalism angered Korea and China, and its quest to create what it saw as a more normal defensive posture angered many Japanese liberals. Abe was unable to achieve his lofty goal of formally rewriting the US-drafted pacifist constitution due to poor public support.

Loyalists said his legacy is a stronger US-Japan relationship that should strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities. Abe divided public opinion by forcing his defense goals and other contentious issues through Parliament.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who had a frigid relationship with Abe from an early age, sent a message of condolences to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Saturday, a day after most other world leaders made their statements.

Xi credited Abe for efforts to improve China-Japan ties and said he and Abe reached an important understanding on building better ties, according to a statement released on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website. He also told Kishida that he was willing to work with him to further develop neighborly and cooperative relations.

Abe was groomed to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. His political rhetoric often focused on making Japan a “normal” and “beautiful” nation with a stronger military through a security alliance with the United States and a greater role in international affairs.

He became Japan’s youngest prime minister in 2006 at the age of 52, but his overly nationalistic first term ended abruptly a year later, in part because of his health, resulting in six years of annual leadership rotation.

He returned to office in 2012 and vowed to revive the nation and lift its economy out of its deflationary doldrums with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms. He won six national elections and built a rock-solid grip on power.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://abc13.com/shinzo-abe-assassination-shooting-japan/12036990/ Assassination of Shinzo Abe: Former Prime Minister’s death raises security concerns as Japan mourns

Dais Johnston

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