Shinzo Abe's shooter holds grudge against former Japan PM over alleged links to a religious group

Former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe (centre) attending an election campaign in Nara, while suspect Tetsuya Yamagami (in grey) stands in the background shortly before Mr Abe was shot. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
A security officer tackling Tetsuya Yamagami, suspected of shooting Mr Abe in Nara, Japan, on July 8, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
Security officers tackling Tetsuya Yamagami, suspected of shooting Mr Abe in Nara, Japan, on July 8, 2022. PHOTO: ASAHI SHIMBUN/GETTY IMAGES

TOKYO - The man who gunned down former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe on Friday (July 8) has told police that the crime was not politically motivated and he had not targeted Mr Abe because of political beliefs.

But Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, held a grudge against Mr Abe because he believed the former prime minster was affiliated to a religious organisation. 

Yamagami said he harboured hatred for this religious group because his mother had been coerced into joining it and was sucked into paying exorbitant membership dues and donations that bankrupted and broke up the family.

The Japanese police have not named the organisation.

"I wanted to target the leader of the organisation, but it was difficult," Yamagami had reportedly told police. "I took aim at Abe since I believed that he was tied (to the organisation). I wanted to kill him."

Mr Abe, 67, who was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, was shot in the western city of Nara late on Friday morning and died in hospital later. 

He had been campaigning for a Liberal Democratic Party colleague in the run-up to Sunday’s parliamentary election and was making a speech outside a train station when he was shot from behind.

The shooting shocked a country where guns are tightly controlled.
Nara prefecture police chief Tomoaki Onizuka on Saturday declined to go into detail on whether security measures at the site were inadequate.

But he said an ongoing probe will look into factors such as whether there was a lack of security personnel or training. 

“We can’t deny there were problems,” he said, adding that the probe must be completed with “a sense of urgency”. 

Yamagami’s attack appeared to have been premeditated. Since he quit his job as a forklift operator in May, he had allegedly turned his attention to making weapons. 

Police found several handmade guns – similar to the 40cm by 20cm double-barrelled handgun used on Mr Abe – and explosives during a raid of his home on Friday night.

Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe lies on the ground after he was shot during an election campaign in Nara on July 8, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

On Thursday, a day before the assassination, Yamagami checked out an area in Okayama prefecture, also in western Japan, where Mr Abe was speaking.

The Yomiuri newspaper reported that Yamagami had studied at an elite high school in Nara prefecture.

It quoted former schoolmates as saying he was a cheerful and outgoing student who always had a bright smile. He was grinning in a graduation photograph reproduced by Yomiuri.

Tetsuya Yamagami in a photo from his high school graduation album. PHOTO: TWITTER

After high school, he joined the Maritime Self-Defence Force and was there from 2003 to 2005. He worked odd jobs after leaving the force, including as a dispatch worker and part-time worker.

He reportedly also has licences as a financial planner and a real estate manager.

His latest job, which he reportedly held for about 1½ years until May this year, was as a forklift operator at a manufacturing plant in Kyoto.

The Asahi daily cited factory officials as saying he was a “serious” worker who kept mostly to himself. He stopped going to work in mid-April, citing an “illness”.

“He always ate alone in his car while everyone was going to the cafeteria,” the Asahi newspaper quoted a former colleague as saying. “I thought he was not good at forging relationships.”

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