Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has died after being shot in the western city of Nara — a “rare and unfathomable” event that shook a nation with zero tolerance for gun violence.
Abe served two terms as prime minister and stepped down in 2020 citing ill health. He was Japan’s longest-serving leader.
World leaders, who were shocked when news of Abe’s shooting came out on Friday noon Japan time, immediately sent their condolences.
Former Deputy Foreign Minister in Vietnam Doan Xuan Hung told local media that Abe was “Vietnam’s great friend.” Doan also served as Vietnamese ambassador to Japan from 2011 to 2015.
According to the Vietnamese politician, Abe had a special relationship with all Vietnamese leaders since he took office in 2006, and has helped propel the two countries’ relations.
"The people and leaders of Vietnam greatly appreciate him and are especially shocked that he was killed so despicably. My deepest condolences to the country and people of Japan, and to the family of the venerable former Prime Minister,” Doan told Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper.
Abe visited Vietnam in January 2013, in celebration of Japan-Vietnam Friendship Year. Abe then expressed his country’s commitment to continue supporting Vietnam's economic and social development.
He also met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chin in November last year as part of the Vietnamese leader’s official visit to Japan. The PM thanked Abe for his positive remarks toward Vietnam and lauded Japan’s donations of COVID-19 vaccines and medical supplies.
The US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel also said he was “saddened and shocked” by Friday’s shooting.
“Abe-san has been an outstanding leader of Japan and unwavering ally of the United States,” he said in a statement.
Former US President Donald Trump said it was "absolutely devastating news" that Abe was shot, describing him as "a truly great man and leader."
“He was a true friend of mine and, much more importantly, America. This is a tremendous blow to the wonderful people of Japan, who loved and admired him so much,” Trump said.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was also disheartened by the news. “Our thoughts are with his family and the people of Japan at this time,” he wrote on Twitter.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also condoled the death of one of his “dearest friends.”
“I am shocked and saddened beyond words at the tragic demise of one of my dearest friends, Shinzo Abe. He was a towering global statesman, an outstanding leader, and a remarkable administrator. He dedicated his life to making Japan and the world a better place.”
Japanese local media reported that the attacker opened fire on the 67-year-old politician with an apparently homemade gun. Abe was delivering an election campaign speech in the western city of Nara ahead of this Sunday’s upper house elections.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned the shooting in the “strongest terms.”
“This attack is an act of brutality that happened during the elections - the very foundation of our democracy - and is absolutely unforgivable,” said Kishida, who was evidently struggling to keep his emotions in check.
Two loud bangs were heard at the event seconds before Abe stumbled to the ground. Emergency services said he was hit on the right side of his neck and left clavicle. He was immediately airlifted to the hospital.
The attacker was immediately caught just meters behind the former prime minister. Wearing a grey shirt, light brown trousers, grey trainers, and a surgical mask, the suspect was identified as Tetsuya Yamagami, a 41-year-old resident of Nara. Two cylindrical metal parts that appeared to have been heavily bound with black tape were found lying on the road near the scene. The motive for the attack was not yet known, but the media said he had served in Japan's military for three years until 2005.
Gun attacks are very rare in Japan. The country of 125.8 million has one of the world’s lowest rates of gun violence due to very strict gun ownership policies. In 2018, the country reported less than 10 deaths from firearms, compared to the US’ 39,740 in that same year.
Under Japan's firearms laws, the only guns permitted for sale are shotguns and air rifles; handguns are outlawed. But getting them is a long and complicated process that requires effort, paperwork, classes, and several tests. Potential owners must undergo a mental health evaluation and drug tests, as well as a rigorous background check
“It’s not only rare, but it's really culturally unfathomable,” Nancy Snow, Japan director of the International Security Industrial Council told CNN.
“The Japanese people can’t imagine having a gun culture as we have in the United States. This is a speechless moment. I really feel at a loss for words.”
The last known public shooting of a politician in Japan was in 2007 when Iccho Ito, mayor of Nagasaki, was shot by an alleged gangster.