KASHIHARA: Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated on Friday by a gunman who opened fire at close range as the hugely influential politician delivered a campaign speech.
The murder of the 67-year-old, who had been Japan’s longest-serving leader, stunned the nation and prompted an international outpouring of grief and condemnation.
It was all the more shocking given Japan’s strict gun laws and low rates of violent crime, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida describing it as a “barbaric act” that was “absolutely unforgivable.”
Abe was shot shortly before noon while campaigning in the western region of Nara ahead of weekend upper house elections.
He was flown by helicopter to the Nara Medical University hospital where he was pronounced dead several hours later.
“Shinzo Abe was transported to (the hospital) at 12:20 pm. He was in a state of cardiac arrest upon arrival,” said Hidetada Fukushima, professor of emergency medicine at the hospital.
“Resuscitation was administered. However, unfortunately he died at 5:03 pm.”
Fukushima said Abe had suffered two gunshot wounds to the neck and died of massive blood loss, despite being administered enormous transfusions.
A visibly emotional Kishida told reporters after Abe’s death was confirmed that he was “lost for words”.
He earlier abandoned the campaign trail and flew to Tokyo by helicopter where in a quivering voice he condemned “a barbaric act during election campaigning, which is the foundation of democracy.”
“It is absolutely unforgivable. I condemn this act in the strongest terms.”
The attack occurred as Abe delivered a stump speech with security present, but spectators able to approach him easily.
Footage broadcast by NHK showed him standing on a stage when a man dressed in a grey shirt and brown trousers approached from behind, before drawing a weapon 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 and he was arrested.
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”.
‘A large bang’
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.
Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “deeply distressed” by the news. and announced one-day national mourning on July 9.