TOKYO (AP) — A senior police official admitted Saturday to possible security breaches that allowed an assassin to fire his gun at former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as he addressed a rally campaign, raising questions about how the striker could get so close to him.
Abe was shot dead in the western city of Nara on Friday and airlifted to hospital, but died of a haemorrhage. Police arrested the attacker, a former member of the Japanese Navy, at the scene. Police confiscated his homemade weapon and several more were later found in his apartment.
The attacker, Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he acted because he believed in rumors that Abe was linked to an organization that had a grudge against him, police said. Japanese media reported that the man had developed hatred towards a religious group that his mother was obsessed with and that was causing financial problems for his family. Reports did not specify the group.
On Saturday, a black hearse carrying Abe’s body and accompanied by his wife, Akie, arrived at his home in Tokyo’s upscale Shibuya residential area. Many mourners, including senior party officials, waited for his remains and bowed their heads as the vehicle passed.
Nara Prefectural Police Chief Tomoaki Onizuka said Abe’s killing was his “biggest regret” in his 27-year career.
“I can’t deny there were issues with our security,” Onizuka said. “Whether it’s a configuration, an emergency response or the capacity of individuals, we still need to know. Overall, there has been an issue and we will look into it. from every angle.”
Abe’s killing ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election shocked the nation and raised questions about whether the former prime minister’s security was adequate.
Some observers who watched videos of the attack noted a lack of attention in the open space behind Abe as he spoke.
A former Kyoto prefectural police investigator, Fumikazu Higuchi, said the footage suggested security was sparse at the event and insufficient for a former prime minister.
“It is necessary to investigate why security allowed Yamagami to move freely and go behind Mr. Abe,” Higuchi said on a Japanese television talk show.
Experts also said Abe was more vulnerable standing at ground level, rather than atop a campaign vehicle, which is usually the case, but would not have been available due to his visit hastily organized in Nara.
“It looks like the police were mostly focusing on the front, while paying little attention to what is behind Mr. Abe, and no one stopped the suspect from approaching him,” said Mitsuru Fukuda, professor of crisis management at Nihon University. “Obviously there were problems.”
Fukuda said election campaigns provide a chance for voters and politicians to interact because “political terrorism” was extremely rare in post-war Japan. But Abe’s killing could prompt tighter security at crowded events like campaigns, sports games and the like.
During a parliamentary debate in 2015, Abe resisted an opposition MP’s suggestions to beef up his security, insisting that “Japan is a safe country”.
In videos circulating on social media, Yamagami, 41, can be seen standing just a few feet (yards) behind Abe on a busy street, and constantly looking around.
Minutes after Abe stood on the podium and began his speech – as a local party candidate and his supporters stood and waved to the crowd – Yamagami can be seen pulling his gun out of a bag, walking towards Abe and fire the first shot, which released a cloud of smoke, but the projectile apparently missed Abe.
As Abe turned to see where the noise was coming from, a second shot went off. That bullet apparently hit Abe’s left arm, missing a bulletproof briefcase lifted by a security guard standing behind him.
Abe fell to the ground, his left arm bent as if to cover his chest. Campaign organizers shouted through loudspeakers calling for medical experts to provide Abe with first aid. His heart and breathing had stopped by the time he was airlifted to hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
Police said on Saturday autopsy results showed a bullet that entered Abe’s upper left arm had damaged the arteries below both collarbones, causing massive bleeding that was fatal.
According to the Asahi newspaper, Yamagami was a contract worker at a warehouse in Kyoto, driving a forklift. He was described as a quiet person who did not mingle with his colleagues. A neighbor at his apartment told Asahi that he had never met Yamagami, although he remembered hearing noises like a saw being used several times late at night over the past month.
Japan is particularly known for its strict gun laws. With a population of 125 million, there were just 10 gun-related criminal cases last year, eight of which were gang-related at the time.
Although not in power, Abe was still highly influential within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and led its largest faction. But his ultra-nationalist views have made him a divisive figure for many.
Abe quit his job two years ago blaming a recurrence of ulcerative colitis he had since he was a teenager. He said he regretted leaving many of his goals unfinished, particularly his failure to resolve the problem of the Japanese abducted years ago by North Korea, a territorial dispute with Russia and a review of the constitution of Japan renouncing war.
This ultra-nationalism annoyed the Koreas and China, and his drive to create what he saw as a more normal defense posture angered many Japanese liberals. Abe failed to achieve his cherished goal of formally rewriting the US-drafted pacifist constitution due to weak public support.
Loyalists said his legacy was a stronger U.S.-Japan relationship meant to bolster Japan’s defense capability. Abe divided the public by forcing his defense targets and other contentious issues through parliament.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who had a frosty relationship with Abe early on, sent a message of condolence to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Saturday, a day after most other world leaders released their statements.
Xi credited Abe with making efforts to improve China-Japan relations and said he and Abe reached an important agreement on building better relations, according to a statement posted on the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. Foreign Affairs. He also told Kishida that he was ready to work with him to continue developing neighborly and cooperative relations.
Abe was groomed to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. His political rhetoric was often aimed at 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, aged 52, but his overly nationalistic first stint abruptly ended a year later, also because of his health, prompting six years of annual leadership changes.
He returned to power in 2012, promising to revitalize the nation and lift its economy out of its deflationary slump with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms. He won six national elections and gained a solid grip on power.