Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — one of the most consequential leaders in Japan’s postwar history — died Friday after being shot while giving a stump speech in the city of Nara. He was 67 years old.
As Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, the assassination of Abe just two days before the Upper House election has shaken the nation, with politicians of all stripes condemning the attack as an affront to democracy.
“I’m deeply saddened and lost for words,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said with red, swollen eyes following the news of Abe’s death. “We lost a great leader who loved the nation, looked to the future and made great achievements in various fields for the future of this country.”
“We must defend free and just elections, which are at the root of democracy. I will say this to the people until the very last moment of the campaign,” he said.
The police arrested the man suspected of killing Abe, who was giving a campaign speech in front of Yamato Saidaiji Station when the attack occurred at around 11:30 a.m. local time.
Videos of the incident showed two shots being fired. Japan is known for having one of the strictest gun control laws in the world.
The former prime minister was unconscious when he was transported via a medical helicopter to Nara Medical University Hospital in the city of Kashihara, south of central Nara, where he was pronounced dead on Friday afternoon despite hours of effort to save him.
After Abe’s death, doctors at Nara Medical University Hospital told reporters that he was already in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest when he was admitted to the hospital at 12:20 p.m., having sustained two gunshot wounds to the front of his neck. His heart was damaged by the gunshots, they said.
He died at 5:03 p.m. from loss of blood, hospital surgeon Hidetada Fukushima said, adding that doctors tried to resuscitate him and gave him massive blood transfusions.
Prior to Abe’s death, Kishida ordered ministers campaigning outside of Tokyo to return to the capital immediately, and convened a Cabinet meeting.
Police arrested the suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, a 41-year-old resident of the city of Nara, on suspicion of murder and confiscated the gun.
Government officials said Yamagami had been a Maritime Self-Defense Force officer for three years until around 2005.
Yamagami told investigators he “had grievances” with the former prime minister and had intended to kill him. He also said, however, that he “did not resent Abe’s political beliefs.” The police found explosives in Yamagami’s home, NHK reported.
The gun used in the attack appeared to be hand-made, with media footage showing what looked like two barrels wrapped in black tape lying on the ground after the attack.