TOKYO -- Shinzo Abe, a former leader of Japan, was shot and killed at a campaign event Friday. This shocking attack shocked a country in which gun violence is almost nonexistent.
Abe, now 67, was a prominent political figure even after his retirement as Japan's longest-serving prime Minister. He was also campaigning for the Sunday elections.
Just as he was about to begin a speech in Nara, a western city near Kyoto, gunfire was heard at around 11:30 am local time (14:30 ET Thursday).
According to police, Tetsuya Yamagishi (a 41-year old unemployed man) was taken into custody at the scene. He was being investigated as a murder suspect. Police said that the suspect had confessed to the crime and told them that he held grudges against a group he believed to be connected to Abe. Yamagishi claimed that he worked for the Japanese Navy for three years.
They claimed they believed the attack was carried on with a homemade gun, and later discovered several weapons made from metal and wood at Yamagishi’s home. It is not clear if the suspect was licensed to carry the weapons.
Police are still trying to determine if the suspect was acting alone.
On video footage of Abe's speech, a white puff appeared behind the former leader and two cannon-like blasts were heard. Video and photos showed what appeared to be an improvised weapon on the ground. Security officers tackled a man to death.
After suffering from cardio-pulmonary arrest, Abe was taken to Nara Medical University Hospital. His death was announced by the hospital shortly after 5:15 a.m. ET.
Professor of emergency medicine at the hospital Dr. Hidetada Fukshima stated that Abe suffered two gunshot wounds but no vital signs upon his arrival less than an hour later. He said that blood transfusions and life-saving measures were ineffective, and Abe was declared dead at 4:03 AM. ET.
Later, Prime Minister Fumio Kishhida addressed reporters and stated that Abe was killed in a "despicable and barbaric" manner.
Kishida, red-eyed, said that he had been praying for him to survive.
Kishida stated that campaigning for the election to the upper house would continue on Saturday. Abe, who was elected in 2020, was running for other members the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), but was not running for office.
Kishida stated, "I believe that free, fair, and democratic elections are the foundation of democracy."
The attack was condemned by President Joe Biden, who called the ex-Japan leader a "champion for the alliance between our countries and the friendship among our people."
He said, "I am shocked, outraged and deeply saddened" and called the assassination "a tragedy in Japan and for all those who knew him."
Abe dominated Japanese politics for a good part of a century and has remained politically active ever since, leading the largest faction in his party.
This incident caused shockwaves across the country, where gun violence and ownership laws are very strict.
Iwao Horii was an LDP member representing Nara in the upper house when Abe was shot. Horii stated that he heard two loud noises while Abe was speaking and fell right away after those sounds. Horii said that Abe wasn't responding to emergency medical attempts to revive him.
He said, "This is something which shakes the very foundations democracy and cannot be forgiven."
The country's main opposition party, Constitutional Democrats (center-left), condemned the shooting, with Kenta Izumi, party leader, calling it "terrorism."
Rahm Emanuel (ambassador to the United States in Japan), said that he was shocked by the news and deeply saddened.
Emanuel stated in a Friday statement that Abe-san was an outstanding leader in Japan and an unwavering ally for the United States.
On Friday, stunned leaders from all over the globe offered condolences to Abe.
Queen Elizabeth stated that she has fond memories of having met Mr. Abe's wife and him during their 2016 visit to the United Kingdom. His love for Japan and his desire for closer ties with the United Kingdom were evident.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the embattled Ukrainian president, tweeted his deepest condolences to his family as well as Japan's people during this difficult time.
Angela Merkel, former German Chancellor, stated that her time in office was largely overlapped by Abe's. She said she was "deeply stunned and devastated" at the news of Abe's "cowardly, and vile assassination."
Leaders in the Asia-Pacific region where Abe established close and lasting ties, also expressed similar disbelief.
"Deeply disturbed by the attack against my dear friend Abe Shinzo. His family and Japan's people are in our thoughts and prayers," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.
During a meeting in Sydney Australia, Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Prime Minister, stated that "he was deeply committed to the role, as well as generous and kind." His wife and the Japanese people are in my thoughts. We are all shaken by events like these.
Although Abe was praised for raising Japan's profile on international stage, scandals plagued his party and he was accused in the Covid-19 pandemic of not handling the country's response.
After Donald Trump's election in November 2016, Abe was the first foreign leader who met with him.
The former president called Abe "a truly remarkable man and leader" in a late Thursday post on his Truth Social platform.
Trump stated, "He was a true friend and, more importantly, America."
Barack Obama, a former president, stated that Abe was dedicated to the country he served as well as the extraordinary alliance between the United States of Japan.
Obama stated in a statement that he will never forget the work he did to strengthen our alliance and the moving experience of traveling together to Hiroshima, Pearl Harbor, and the grace he showed Michelle and Akie Abe."
George W. Bush, Obama's predecessor, called Abe "decent, caring man."
He said that Shinzo Abe was a patriot who wanted to serve his country, in a statement.
Abe was a member of Japan's elite political class and, as prime minister, made economic growth through his "Abenomics” policies a major pillar of his tenure in office.
Abe's resignation was due to a worsening in his ulcerative colitis two years ago, which he had been suffering from for many years.
After being in office for nearly eight years, he announced his resignation. From 2006 to 2007, he was the prime minister.