Flowers, bottles of water and a framed photo of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on July 9, 2022 near the crime scene where he was killed during a political event in Nara, Japan. The incident was one of the largest acts of political violence in Japan since World War II.
Kosuke Okahara | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A man arrested for murdering Shinzo Abe believed the former Japanese leader was linked to a religious group he blamed for his mother’s financial ruin and spent months planning an attack with a homemade gun, police told local media on Saturday.
Tetsuya Yamagami, an unemployed 41-year-old, was identified by police as the suspect who approached Japan’s longest-serving prime minister from behind and opened fire, an attack that was captured on video and shocked a nation where gun violence is rare.
Wiry and shaggy-haired and bespectacled, the suspect was seen striding onto the road behind Abe, who was standing on a pole at the junction, before firing two shots from a 40cm (16in) long weapon wrapped in black tape. The police caught him on the spot.
Yamagami was a loner who did not respond to conversation, neighbors told Reuters. He believed Abe had promoted a religious group to which his mother had made a “huge donation,” the Kyodo news agency reported, citing investigative sources.
He told police that his mother was bankrupt from the donation, the Yomiuri newspaper and other media reported.
“My mother was wrapped up in a religious group and I resented it,” Kyodo and others quoted him as telling police.
Nara police declined to comment on details of Yamagami’s motives or preparations reported by Japanese media.
The media did not name the religious group he was allegedly upset with.
Yamagami jury-built the weapon from parts bought online, spending months planning the attack and even attending other Abe campaign events, including one a day earlier about 200 km (miles) away, media reports said.
He considered a bomb attack before deciding on a gun, according to public broadcaster NHK.
The suspect told police he made the weapons by wrapping steel pipes with tape, some of them with three, five or six pipes, with parts he bought online, according to NHK.
Police found bullet holes in a sign attached to a van near the scene of the shooting and believe they are from Yamagami, police said Saturday. The videos show Abe turning towards the attacker after the first punch before crumpling to the ground after the second.
Yamagami lived on the eighth floor of a building with small apartments. The ground floor is full of bars where guests pay for drinks and chat with female hostesses. One karaoke bar has stopped working.
The elevator stops at only three floors, a cost-saving design. Yamagami had to get off and walk up the stairs to his apartment.
One of his neighbors, a 69-year-old woman who lived on the floor below him, saw him three days before Abe’s murder.
“I greeted me but he ignored me. He was just looking at the ground to the side without a mask. He seemed nervous,” the woman, who gave only her surname Nakayama, told Reuters. “It was like I was invisible. It seemed like something was bothering him.”
She pays 35,000 yen ($260) a month in rent and believes her neighbors pay about the same.
A Vietnamese woman who lives two doors down from Yamagami and gave her name as Mai said she seemed to keep to herself. “I saw him a couple of times. I bowed to him in the elevator, but he didn’t say anything.”
Experience with naval weapons
A person named Tetsuya Yamagami served in the Maritime Self-Defense Force from 2002 to 2005, a Japanese navy spokesman said, declining to say whether he was the suspected killer, as reported by the media.
This Yamagami joined a training unit at Sasebo, the main naval base in the southwest, and was assigned to the gunnery section of the destroyer, the spokesman said. He was later assigned to a training ship in Hiroshima.
“During their service, members of the Self-Defense Force train with live ammunition once a year. They also do weapon breakdown and maintenance,” a senior naval officer told Reuters.
“But the way they follow orders when they do it, it’s hard to believe they’ve acquired enough knowledge to make a weapon,” he said. Even soldiers who have served “for a long time do not know how to make weapons”.
Some time after leaving the navy, Yamagami registered with a recruitment company and began working at a factory in Kyoto as a forklift operator in late 2020, the Mainichi newspaper reported.
He had no problems until mid-April, when he missed work without permission and then told his boss that he wanted to quit, the paper said. He took advantage of the holidays and finished on May 15.