NARA – A top police official has admitted that security lapses did allow an assassin to get close behind and fire his gun at former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while he was addressing a campaign rally.
Abe was shot in the western city of Nara on Friday and airlifted to a hospital but died of blood loss. Police arrested the attacker, a former member of Japan’s navy, at the scene. Police confiscated his homemade gun and several others were later found at his apartment.
The attacker, Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he acted because he believed rumors that Abe was connected to an organization that he resents, police said. Japanese media reported that the man had developed hatred toward a religious group that his mother was obsessed with and that caused his family financial problems. The reports did not specify the group.
Nara prefectural police chief Tomoaki Onizuka said Abe’s assassination was his ‘greatest regret’ in a 27-year career.
‘I cannot deny there were problems with our security,’ Onizuka said. ‘Whether it was a setup, emergency response, or the ability of individuals, we still have to find out. Overall, there was a problem and we will review it from every perspective.’
Abe’s assassination ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election shocked the nation and raised questions over whether security for the former prime minister 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 freely move and go behind Mr. Abe,’ Higuchi told a Nippon TV talk show.
Experts also said Abe was more vulnerable standing on the ground level, instead of atop a campaign vehicle, which is usually the case but was reportedly unavailable due to his hastily arranged visit to Nara.
‘Looks like police were mainly focusing on frontward while paying little attention to what’s behind Mr. Abe, and nobody stopped the suspect approaching him,’ said Mitsuru Fukuda, a crisis-management professor at Nihon University. ‘Clearly, there were problems.’
Fukuda said that election campaigns provide a chance for voters and politicians to interact because ‘political terrorism’ was extremely rare in post-war Japan. But Abe’s assassination could prompt stricter security at crowded events like campaigns, sports games, and others.