Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, died at the age of 67 Friday after being shot during a campaign speech in western Japan. It was a shocking attack in a country that has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world.
Abe was shot from behind minutes after he started his speech Friday in the city of Nara. He collapsed bleeding and was airlifted to a nearby hospital in Nara, although he was not breathing and his heart had stopped, the Associated Press reported. He was later pronounced dead after receiving massive blood transfusions, officials said.
Police arrested a male suspect, identified as 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, at the scene of the shooting in Nara, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno. Officials said he used a gun that was clearly homemade, and they confiscated similar weapons and his personal computer when they raided his nearby one-room apartment, according to the AP.
The Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that Yamagami worked for the Maritime Self-Defense Force for three years until around 2005. He said he wanted to kill Abe because he had complaints about him unrelated to politics, according to NHK. Police said Yamagami was responding to questions and had admitted to attacking Abe.
Japan’s current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, called the assassination “dastardly and barbaric.”
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In Washington, President Joe Biden said he was “stunned, outraged, and deeply saddened” by Abe’s assassination.
“This is a tragedy for Japan and for all who knew him,” Biden said in a statement early Friday. He called Abe “a champion of the alliance between our nations and the friendship between our people.”
On Friday afternoon, Biden went to the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Washington to sign a condolence book for Abe. He said he reached out to Kishida but was unable to make contact because of the time difference. Biden also ordered flags at the White House, public grounds, embassies and military facilities to be flown at half staff in memory of Abe until July 10.
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NHK aired footage showing Abe collapsed on the street, with several security guards running toward him. He was bleeding and holding his chest. Two apparent gun shots are audible in the video.
The video also shows security guards tackling the apparent gunman to the ground. A double-barreled device that appeared to be a handmade gun can be seen on the pavement. .
Japan has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. Prospective owners must undergo formal instruction as well as written, mental, and drug tests and a rigorous background check.
Abe was making a campaign speech ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary elections. Kishida said the election – for Japan’s less-powerful upper house of parliament – would go forward as planned.
Abe first became Japan’s prime minister in 2006, when he was 52, making him the youngest leader to hold the post at the time. But he resigned a year later, after his Liberal Democratic Party lost control of the legislature and amid his own health issues; he suffered from ulcerative colitis.
Abe was elected to lead the liberal party again in 2012, elevating him to prime minister a second time in December of that year. He led the country until August 2020, announcing his resignation when his illness resurfaced.
During his second stint as prime minister, Abe worked to revitalize Japan’s economy from its deflationary doldrums with his “Abenomics” formula, which combined fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms.
His ultra-nationalism riled the Koreas and China, and his push to normalize Japan’s defense posture angered many Japanese. Abe failed to achieve his cherished goal of formally rewriting the U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution due to public opposition.
Following his resignation, Abe remained an influential political figure in his Liberal Democratic Party.
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Former President Donald Trump said it was “absolutely devastating news.” Abe “was a true friend of mine and, much more importantly, America,” Trump said in a message posted on his social media platform. “This is a tremendous blow to the wonderful people of Japan, who loved and admired him so much.”
Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, said he was “deeply saddened” by the news of Abe’s death.
“Prime Minister Abe was a leader ahead of his time … The clarity of his voice will be truly missed,” Emanuel said in a statement. “The United States has lost a trust partner and an outspoken advocate for our shared ideals.”
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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