The US Department of Defense (DoD) has expressed sympathy for the “senseless murder” of Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. On Friday morning, while Abe was delivering a speech on the street in the city of Nara, he was gunned down by two separate shots.

Reports say that Abe had a heart attack while being flown to a nearby hospital and later died due to his injuries.

“The Department of Defense is stunned and deeply saddened by the senseless murder of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. His killing is a tragedy for the people of Japan and for all those who value a free and open Indo-Pacific. As Prime Minister, Mr. Abe championed the vital and enduring alliance between our two democracies, paving the way for Japan to play an even larger role in our alliance,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement.

The Defense Secretary also said that Abe’s legacy is an Indo-Pacific region that is more “secure, stable, and prosperous.” Abe worked to build coalitions and relationships across the region, primarily through forums like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue of Japan, India, Australia, and the US.

Former Prime Minister @AbeShinzo and I recently met to discuss the essential role of the #USJapanAlliance in maintaining peace and prosperity in the free and open Indo-Pacific region. (Source: Office of U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

‘Assault on Democracy’

Austin said that the unfortunate incident that led to the former prime minister’s death has only contributed to heightening the profound feeling of loss that everyone felt and tagged the killing as an “assault on democracy.” He added that “a violent assault on peaceful democratic processes anywhere is an assault on democracy everywhere.”

“To him and his family, and to the people of Japan: please know that I and the entire Department of Defense stand with you as allies and friends in this time of shock and sorrow.”

The Japanese community has expressed outrage over the assassination plot, which they touted as “an act of terrorism.” The Japan Times said in its editorial that “the attack on former Prime Minister Abe in Nara on Friday is an attack on us all.”

The Attacker

When the assault happened, Prime Minister Abe was in the city of Nara, in the southern part of Japan, giving a campaign rally address for a political candidate at a traffic junction.

Two shots were fired at the former prime minister from behind by a man who eyewitnesses saw carrying what they described as a heavy gun. Abe was knocked unconscious and collapsed to the ground as witnesses screamed.

 

Even though a security detail accompanied Abe, the assailant could approach Mr. Abe within a few meters without encountering any control points or barriers, according to reports.

Photos after the assassination plot showed the suspect standing just behind Mr. Abe while giving his address. The Japanese police have confessed weaknesses in the protection provided for Abe. Security personnel present at the scene subdued the attacker. The suspect, 41 years old, is currently in police custody.

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According to the authorities, the suspect, who has been identified as Tetsuya Yamagami, confessed to murdering Abe with a hand-made gun and revealed that he had a vendetta against a “specific organization.”

The BBC reported that after investigating the perpetrator’s residence, law enforcement officials said during a media briefing that they had found and seized many other hand-made weapons comparable to those used in the assassination.

Explosive materials were also uncovered at the house, and the police encouraged the neighborhood’s dwellers to leave immediately after making the discovery.

Rare History of Gun Attacks

Then VP Joe Biden and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe in 2013. (Source: 首相官邸ホームページCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The US occupying forces in Japan in 1946 gave instructions that resulted in Japan having some of the world’s most stringent gun control laws. According to the most recent annual crime paper released by the Ministry of Justice, law enforcement agencies made 21 arrests involving weapons in 2020, 12 of which were tied to gang activity.

Some of the notable killings before Abe’s was during a speech in 1994, Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa was targeted by an assailant who fired shots but missed him. Iccho Ito, the Mayor of Nagasaki, was slain by a gunshot in 2007.

Compared to the US and Europe, the level of protection provided for political and commercial leaders in Japan is often lower, except when Japan is hosting particularly prominent international events due to the general feeling that there is not much of a threat, the report noted.

However, due to the nature of the public attack on Prime Minister Abe, there is a likelihood that Japan may promptly examine how it safeguards its authorities, as well as strengthen the level of protection throughout electoral campaigns and other significant gatherings.