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Former Japan PM Shinzo Abe dies after being shot

July 8, 2022

Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has died in the hospital after being shot during a campaign speech. Authorities have arrested a male suspect.

Japanese former Shinzo Abe speaks for his party member candidate of the House of Councillors election near Yamato Saidaiji Station in Nara Prefecture on July 8, 2022, just seconds before he is shot
Shinzo Abe was killed by gunman during a campaign event Image: Kazuhiko Hirano/Yomiuri Shimbun/AP Photo/picture alliance

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has died after being shot on Friday during a campaign event in western Japan, the hospital where he was treated confirmed.

"Shinzo Abe was transported to [the hospital] at 12:20 p.m. (0320 GMT) He was in a state of cardiac arrest upon arrival. Resuscitation was administered. However, unfortunately, he died at 5:03 p.m.," Hidetada Fukushima, a doctor at the Nara Medical University Hospital, said.

Police said a 41-year-old man had been arrested. Local media reported the suspect had served in the navy and left Japan's Self-Defense Force in 2005. According to public broadcaster NHK, the suspect confessed to police that he was unhappy with Abe and intended to kill him.

The attack has shocked a nation with some of the world's strictest gun control laws. Police said that the shooter used a homemade gun.

Journalist Sonja Blaschke in Tokyo told DW that lots of people have "condemned the violence as the country is not used to events like this... The question is how the attacker could get past security."

What we know about the shooting of Shinzo Abe

An NHK reporter on the scene said they could hear two consecutive bangs during Abe's speech. Media reports said Abe was shot from behind and hit in the neck and chest area. 

Abe, 67, collapsed and was bleeding from the neck, a source from his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said.

NHK footage showed Abe collapsed on the street, surrounded by several security guards. He was holding his chest with his shirt smeared with blood. 

An aerial photo shows a helicopter carrying Japanese former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the rooftop of Nara Medical University Hospital
Shinzo Abe was airlifted to a local hospital after the attackImage: Shohei Izumi/AP Photo/picture alliance

"He was giving a speech and a man came from behind," a woman at the scene told NHK. 

"The first shot sounded like a toy. 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. 

The Nara Medical University Hospital said that Abe arrived at the hospital already showing no vital signs. They said he had bullet wounds to the neck and chest and that he died from blood loss, despite attempts by doctors to administer large quantities of blood transfusions.

Police later raided the home of the man who was arrested over the shooting, where they reportedly found possible explosives, according to NHK. Police also said they had confiscated "several handmade gun-like items."

"The suspect stated that he held a grudge against a particular organization and that he committed the crime because he believed former prime minister Abe had a connection to it," a senior police officer said. Police were reportedly investigating the claim about the organization which Japanese media described as being a religious group.

A man, believed to be a suspect shooting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is held by police officers
Police arrested a suspect in the immediate aftermath of the shootingImage: Kazuhiko Hirano/Yomiuri Shimbun/AP Photo/picture alliance

Election campaigning on hold 

A government spokesperson said Prime Minister Kishida had suspended his election campaign following the news of the shooting. He and his Cabinet ministers are returning to Tokyo.

Kishida called the shooting "unforgivable." He said Japan could not accept that this violent act took place during an election.

"It is a barbaric act during election campaigning, which is the foundation of democracy, and it is absolutely unforgivable. I condemn this act in the strongest terms," he said.

His government has reportedly set up a crisis team. Japan is due to hold elections for its upper house of parliament on Sunday, with the LDP projected to win convincingly.

However, Kishida insisted that the election will go ahead as planned. "We must absolutely defend free and fair elections, which are the basis of democracy. We will proceed with our election campaign tomorrow as planned with the firm conviction that we will never yield to violence," he said.

"Everyone, whether they are on the left or right in the Diet, is expressing their condolences," said Akitoshi Miyashita, a professor of international relations at Tokyo International University. 

"Something like this is truly shocking in Japan, although there have been other attacks on politicians in the past," he said, pointing to the death of Koki Ishii in October 2002. Ishii, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, was attacked by a man armed with a knife on the doorstep of his home in Tokyo. The assailant was later identified as a member of a far-right nationalist group that opposed his political views. 

World leaders reacted with shock at the shooting. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he was "stunned and deeply saddened" by the news of Abe's death.

Who is Shinzo Abe?

Abe, a grandson of former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, was Japan's longest-serving premier.

He was in office for a year in 2006 and then from 2012 to 2020.

Abe was 52 when he first came into power. His first, turbulent term was marked by scandals and discord. His sudden resignation was initially thought to be due to political reasons, but he later cited a medical condition.

He became prime minister again in 2012 and introduced "Abenomics" — a plan to revive Japan's economy, which involved vast government spending, massive monetary easing, and cutting red tape.

His terms were also marked by a failed attempt to rewrite Japan's post-war pacifist constitution and his revisionist view on the country's imperialist past, both of which stemmed from his grandfather, Kishi, who served as an official in territories occupied by imperial Japan during the Second World War before becoming prime minister.

He stepped down in August 2020, saying his chronic health problem had resurfaced. 

Julian Ryall in Tokyo contributed to this report.

ab, ss/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters)