NARA, Japan (AP) — Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated Friday on a street in western Japan by a gunman who opened fire on him from behind as he delivered a campaign speech — an attack that stunned the nation with some of the strictest gun control laws anywhere.
The 67-year-old Abe, who was Japan’s longest-serving leader when he resigned in 2020, collapsed bleeding and was airlifted to a nearby hospital in Nara, although he was not breathing and his heart had stopped. He was later pronounced dead after receiving massive blood transfusions, officials said.
Nara Medical University emergency department chief Hidetada Fukushima said Abe suffered major damage to his heart, along with two neck wounds that damaged an artery. He never regained his vital signs, Fukushima said.
Police at the shooting scene in Nara arrested Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, a former member of Japan’s navy, on suspicion of murder. Police said he used a gun that was obviously homemade — about 15 inches (40 centimeters) long — and they confiscated similar weapons and his personal computer when they raided his nearby one-room apartment.
Police said Yamagami was responding calmly to questions and had admitted to attacking Abe, telling investigators he had plotted to kill him because he believed rumors about the former leader’s connection to a certain organization that police did not identify.
Dramatic video from NHK showed Abe standing and giving a speech outside a train station in Nara ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election. As he raised his fist to make a point, two gunshots rang out, and he collapsed holding his chest, his shirt smeared with blood as security guards run toward him. Guards then leapt onto the gunman, who was face down on the pavement.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Cabinet ministers hastily returned to Tokyo from campaign events around the country after the shooting, which he called “dastardly and barbaric.” He pledged that the election, which chooses members for Japan’s less-powerful upper house of parliament, would go on as planned.
“I use the harshest words to condemn (the act),” Kishida said, struggling to control his emotions. He said the government planned to review the security situation, but added that Abe had the highest protection.
Even though he was out of office, Abe was still highly influential in the governing Liberal Democratic Party and headed its largest faction, Seiwakai.
Opposition leaders condemned the attack as a challenge to Japan’s democracy. In Tokyo, people stopped on the street to grab extra editions of newspapers or watch TV coverage of the shooting. Bouquets to Abe were placed near the scene of the killing.
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