Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has died after being shot at a campaign event.
Mr Abe was delivering a speech on Friday ahead of Sunday’s upper house elections in the city of Nara in western Japan when he was shot at twice by an assailant using a handmade gun.
The 67-year-old fell to the ground on the impact of one of the shots and was reported to be in a state of cardiac arrest as he was airlifted to hospital, despite initial reports that he had been conscious and responsive. He was pronounced dead later at the hospital, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said.
Chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters the suspected attacker – who local media said was carrying a “handmade gun” – had been arrested.
Speaking before Mr Abe’s death was announced, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said: “It is a barbaric act during election campaigning, which is the foundation of democracy, and it is absolutely unforgivable. I condemn this act in the strongest terms.”
Footage from national broadcaster NHK showed Mr Abe standing on a stage when a loud blast was heard with smoke visible in the air.
As spectators and reporters ducked, a man was seen being tackled to the ground by security.
Local media identified the suspect as 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, citing police sources. Several media outlets described him as a former member of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, the country’s navy.
He was wielding a weapon described by local media as a “handmade gun”, and broadcaster NHK said he told police after his arrest that he had “targeted Abe with the intention of killing him”.
NHK aired footage showing Mr Abe collapsed on the street, with several security guards running toward him.
“He was giving a speech and a man came from behind,” a woman at the scene told the broadcaster.
“The first shot sounded like a toy. He didn’t fall and there was a large bang. The second shot was more visible, you could see the spark and smoke.
“After the second shot, people surrounded him and gave him cardiac massage.”
Mr Abe collapsed and was bleeding from the neck, a source from his ruling Liberal Democratic Party told Jiji news agency.
The younger brother of Mr Abe, Nobuo Kishi, has told reporters that the former prime minister had received a blood transfusion in an attempt to save his life.
Mr Kishi, who serves as defence minister in the Japanese government, called the attack an inexcusable act.
Mr Abe is perhaps Japan’s best-known politician. He was prime minister between 2006 and 2007 and from 2012 to 2020, when he stepped down after a chronic health problem resurfaced.
The attack is a major shock for Japan, which has very low levels of violent crime and tough gun laws.
Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, paid tribute to the former Japanese premier in a statement that read: “Incredibly sad news about Shinzo Abe. His global leadership through unchartered times will be remembered by many. My thoughts are with his family, friends and the Japanese people. The UK stands with you at this dark and sad time.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted: “Devastated to hear about the attack on former Prime Minister Abe. We stand with our Japanese friends at this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”
Theresa May, who worked with Mr Abe during her own term as Prime Minister, said it was “truly heartbreaking to hear of the death of my friend”.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said: “A wonderful person, great democrat and champion of the multilateral world order has passed away.”
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted: “Shocking news from Japan that former PM Shinzo Abe has been shot – our thoughts are with his family and the people of Japan at this time.”
While attending a group of 20 foreign ministers meeting in Bali, Indonesia, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier: “Our thoughts, our prayers are with him, with his family, with the people of Japan.”
Photo Credit: Getty